By Shevlin Sebastian
(From left): Mia Gysin, Angela Gollard, Krissy Schuh and Barbara Jodie
At Aspinwall House, Fort Kochi, director Amitav Kaul, who is adapting Pulitzer Prize winner Jhumpa Lahiri’s short story collection, ‘Interpreter of Maladies’ to the big screen, pauses and stares at a photograph at the Kochi Muziris Biennale.
When a visitor tells him that last year Kerala had 97 hartals, Amitav shakes his head and says, “That’s not much. In Srinagar, where I live, we have a strike every week. Unfortunately, when a bandh happens in Kashmir, somebody dies. In Kerala, things are milder. But everywhere in India, bandhs happen because somebody wants something. And they are not getting it. So, they have to do a protest to get it.”
Amitav, who is shooting in Kolkata at present, adds, “There are so many bandhs in Bengal, too. The problem is that most of the time, a hartal is called for political reasons and hence it may not be such a good thing. The freedom to protest is being abused.”
The Mumbai-born New York resident Javed Syed says, “I am not against the idea of a general strike. I just saw an incredible film at the Biennale on the mill workers in Mumbai by artist Sudhir Patwardhan. Many workers get exploited, even though the world survives on their work. If they don’t protest, then they will continue to be treated badly.”
However, when told about the numerous strikes last year in Kerala, Javed says, “It clearly shows the ruling class is not listening to the people.”
Javed clarified that in America, there is rarely a general strike. “Workers in particular categories like cab or train drivers may go on strike,” he says. “But life is never brought to a standstill.”
And that is the case in Europe, too. Krissy Schuh of Germany says, “The people working in the railways may go on a strike for better salaries. So the trains will stop running.”
The modus operandi is simple: a political party will mobilise people. They will hold placards and walk from one end of the city to the other, shouting slogans. Then at a designated spot, there will be speeches. “But all this is mostly over within half a day,” says Krissy.
As for the situation in Switzerland, Mia Gysin says, “The last general strike took place decades ago. Nowadays, it is always in particular categories.” Adds her friend, Barbara Jodie, “In Switzerland, the government or the people will suggest a law. Then the people can vote on it, Later, there is the possibility of a referendum. So, the need to strike is less.”
Finally, Angela Gollard, who is Swiss, but has a French boyfriend says, with a smile, “However, there is nobody to match the French. They are always going on strike although it is restricted to particular regions.”
(The New Indian Express, Kerala editions)