Living with Bandhs in Guwahati

Empty streets, shuttered shops, children playing street cricket and a
lonely motorbike whizzing past Guwahati’s normally busy Gopinath
Bordoloi road on a Monday morning. A familiar “extended” weekend,
thanks to a 12 hour Bharat bandh called on July 5th  by the Opposition
against the hike in fuel prices.

For some privileged groups, it was merely an additional break and not
surprisingly, Shillong, the nearby hill station and capital of
Meghalaya, which remained unaffected by the bandh, had a large number
of Guwahati visitors.

This was not so the case with all. Small time traders, shopkeepers and
daily wage earners, who survive on a day-to-day basis, were hit hard.

Thirty-year old Sarbeswar Das, a daily wage earner, making about Rs
200 a day on an average, can ill afford a bandh. His family comprising
elderly parents, wife and two children stay in the nearby town of
Nalbari, as accommodation in the city is expensive. He has to shell
out Rs 1000 a month for his tiny one room flat in Guwahati’s Lachit

Lakhya Kalita, 25, a tiny pan shop owner in Silpukhuri lost about Rs
250, an amount he takes home everyday. “The shop is my only source of

Bus services were crippled and people had a harrowing time with autos
and rickshaws off roads. Faizul Haque, our accountant in C-NES’
Guwahati office, commutes nearly 42 kms daily, from his home at
Sonapur to the office at Rajgarh Road, by public transport.  “Bandhs
are a nightmare for me when not even a cycle moves ” he says.

In spite of price hike hitting the common man, the idea of a bandh is
not supported. “It is futile to call a bandh because the Government
seems adamant,” says Ms. Neelima Bhuyan, who runs a small  tea stall
on Zoo Road. ”The shop was closed, but I have to pay salary to my
workers and the days’ rent.” Similarly, Uttam Das, Manager of a
popular restaurant in Silpukhuri laments the 50% loss that a 12 hour
bandh inflicts.

Early in January this year, the Gauhati High Court had declared all
bandhs in Assam and Meghalaya as illegal and unconstitutional terming
it a violation of the fundamental rights of citizens.  From April 1,
2001 to March 31, 2002, there were nine Assam bandhs, 14 lower Assam
and upper Assam bandhs and 36 district-level bandhs. The total loss
caused by bandhs during the period, as estimated by the North East
Development Finance Corporation and the Federation of Industries of
Northeastern region was Rs 41.14 crore.

All this adds up to a full working day and crores lost in an
economically backward state like Assam, not to forget ethics and work
culture. Most children in Assam or the entire north east India for
that matter with a few exceptions have not seen Independence and
Republic Day Celebrations because these days are invariably declared a
bandh by insurgent groups. A disturbing trend is that school children
have actually begun to look forward to the disruptions so that they do
not have to go to schools.

Bhaswati K Goswami
Communications Officer
C-NES NE Regional Office

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