Not Safe to Venture Out Today

Today is Saturday and we awoke to the sounds of birds tweeting, dogs barking (we have dozens living on the nearby streets) and …. that’s it. No cars, no honking, but peaceful quiet. But there is a more ominous reason for it.

A couple of days ago at group called of pro Kannada activists (Kannada is the local Karnataka language) called for a bandh in the entire state of Karnataka where we live. The reason for this is because the Mahadayi Water Dispute Tribunal made an interim decision to withhold release of water from the neighboring state of Goa for a Malaprabha Lift Irrigation project. This would be done in the northwestern part of the state and several districts are severely impacted and are protesting because of dry conditions from past years.

What is a bandh? Bandh, originally a Sanskrit word meaning “closed”, is a form of protest used by political activists in South Asian countries such as India and Nepal. During a bandh, a political party or a community declares a general strike. (thanks Wikipedia)

Basically it is a total shutdown of everything.

In some cases there are groups, like the film industry, who support the action and so all theaters are closed. Additionally most stores, hotels and restaurants are closed. But there is a thug mentality here and protestors will go after businesses who don’t close, cars or buses on the streets, etc. so everyone closes and stays off the streets.

There have been arrests and random acts of violence. A train was set on fire this morning. Tires in the middle of roads are lit. Cars are hit with canes to break windows and they are burning effigies of politicians. It is difficult to get gas since the stations are either closed or have no fuel and so people with true emergencies can’t access hospitals. I was just watching TV and saw police beating protesters with bamboo sticks. Frightening.

People are angry. It isn’t clear how this is going to be resolved so we shall see what happens over the next days and weeks.

Here’s a brief description of what it looks like here. Honestly, I’ve NEVER seen the roads so empty. Too bad nothing is open! But how sad that this is the only avenue people feel that they have to protest an injustice.

I’ll note that earlier this week the bus drivers were on strike looking for a 35% pay hike. That seems like a lot, but in perspective, they make about $150 a month and food, fuel and living expenses are rising at a rate of about 6%. The autorickshaws made really good money fleecing people who had to get to work. There are over 5,000,000 daily bus riders in Bangalore so without transit people took to motorcycles (called two wheelers here), cars, etc. It was a mess. In the end schools were closed for three days.  The bus drivers got a 12.5% pay hike and the rider? They don’t know the impact yet, but it will definitely trickle down so a 20 rupee ride ($0.30) will likely go up to 24 rupees. Multiply that out for a month and that is significant for the worker who lives hand to mouth. It is a vicious cycle.

Things are supposed to get back to normal tonight after 6:30pm. We shall see if it is safe enough to go out to dinner tonight. Sort of like a snow day here in Bangalore.