A Bandh – a “general strike”

What is it?

Today is another Bandh in Karnataka. A Bandh is a dawn till dusk general strike. Effectively 6am to 6pm.This means shops, offices, cinemas, hotels, petrol stations etc are all shut. Transport does not run- there are no buses, cars, taxis or autos / Tuk Tuks. Schools and colleges are shut and almost all government offices are likely to be shut. Everyone (who is not protesting) stays at home.

Why?

From what I can establish (and I’m a foreigner here so it’s difficult to penetrate what is happening), it was called by “pro-Kannada outfits” – the BJP and JD(S) opposition parties – to protest against the Supreme Court’s decision and direction to release Cauvery river water to Tamil Nadu (the neighbouring state to Karnataka). Karnataka supplies river water to various places. Tamil Nadu supply electricity to Karnataka in exchange for the river water. Tamil Nadu farmers need the river water to grow their crops. However there is discussion about the lack of harvesting of rain and flood water by Tamil Nadu state and the type of rice crops (heavily water dependent) that the farmers grow. By contrast Karnataka has built dams and farmers grow different crops to save water. In addition Karnataka is facing a drought for the third consecutive year. The general fear is that Karnataka will run out of water within months. Drinking water is clearly a valuable resource and one we take for granted in the UK.

That may be an over simplistic interpretation of the reasons but like I say, it’s only what I can work out.

What’s happening?

The strike has hit Bangalore especially as the state government has supported the protestors. This is the fourth Bandh in less than a year and the second one in a week. Effectively the city has been brought to a standstill and everywhere is shut.

Last week we were advised around 4pm the day before that the school would be closed due to the Bandh. This week we were advised by midday. The school sent a warning that the strike was expected to be violent and suggested we stayed at home until the news channels said otherwise.

In addition the US Consulate in Bangalore issued a warning to US citizens which was kindly shared on the Overseas Women’s Club of Bangalore. It stated that there would be protests and demonstrations, stone throwing, localised violence as well as traffic congestion (although I have no idea who would be causing the traffic). Citizens were advised to avoid areas of demonstrations, review security plans and maintain a high level of vigilance whilst monitoring local news stations. I checked the British Deputy High Commission in Bangaluru’s website on Gov.uk and found nothing similar.

The police force will be stretched and tired today. The second Bandh in less than a week is coinciding with the end of the Ganesha festival and the beginning of the Bakrid festival. It is estimated by the Times of India, that 25,000 police will be deployed to control the protests. The weary police force will have a tough job on their hands.

Vehicles with Tamil Nadu number plates have been advised to stay away. By lunchtime the news reports were showing pictures of large and loud demonstrations and protestors and strangely on one channel, a picture of a man with his head being shaved. Protestors were on the streets to convey the message that they don’t want to give the Cauvery water to Tamil Nadu as there was not enough water for Karnataka.

Thoughts

The Bandh has effected us as regards grocery and water deliveries (everything cancelled), Rez has had to work from home and I am trying to keep Zahra entertained on a day when we cannot go anywhere or do anything. The complex is quiet but I can hear the distant sirens of police cars and the drums of the demonstrators. It is very strange being confined to the complex for safety reasons when the events appear to be happening elsewhere. It is also difficult to understand why people will not share a basic resource, but clearly fear of not having enough water themselves is driving protests. There are indoctrinated opinions about the people from Tamil Nadu amongst some of the people of Banguluru. Trying to reason with such ingrained views results in me being told I “don’t understand”. That’s true, I don’t!

Buying sufficient drinking water is a skill I have learned and whilst we have had stocks run very low, we have never run out yet. It remains to be seen whether buying drinking water becomes more difficult in the coming months if the scare stories about running out are indeed true. Only time will tell.

India becomes more incredible the longer I am here.

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