Hartal is bad, but govt must allow public gatherings

25 September 2014 Editorial Desk

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina recently said in parliament that law banning hartals will be framed if all the MPs and the people want to have it, though she emphasised on resisting hartal rather than banning it. Businesses repeatedly have been demanding a ban on hartal for advancement of trade and business as the consequences of hartal in terms of economic, social and political costs are huge. Hartals or strikes, as a weapon of anti-government protest, are being observed from the colonial era, but now-a-days the protest programme usually turns into a violent and fatal clash as law enforcers intercept the pro-hartal demonstrations and pickets ignite violence in some cases to catch media attentions.
A study conducted by the Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI) said the economy counts Tk 1,600 crore in losses for each daylong countrywide hartal while the country faces 40 hartals a year on average raising the figure of the losses to Tk 64,000 crore. The DCCI said that the GDP is affected by 6.5 percent due to countrywide shutdowns and the GDP growth could be doubled if there is no hartal.
In Hong Kong more than 1,000 students have taken part in a pro-democracy march to government offices as a protest against a decision by Beijing to rule out fully democratic elections in Hong Kong in 2017. Police do not lob teargas canisters on the protesters or do not charge baton on them because it's their right to protest. In Bangladesh, all the governments are intolerant to the mass protest, although they claim the people are sovereign.
Yes, hartal mounts huge pressure on economy and causes much loss of human lives and triggers insecurity among the people these days, and the nation possibly can't afford to accept such hartal related losses any more. But the incumbent government has shut all the ways to protest its misrule by disallowing any human-chain, rally or demonstration by the oppositions. It locks the offices of many opposition political parties and usually arrests opposition leaders while attempting protest programme on roads. The government should remind that the Bangladeshis like to alter the ruler, and the today's ruler could be tomorrow's opposition.
During the 2001-2006, Awami League reportedly went for 173 days of hartal while it was in the opposition. And now its leader Sheikh Hasina advocates for creating public awareness against this political weapon. It sounds funny.
If hartal is to be stopped the government must allow others the right of free assembly. The government must stop harassing and arresting political opponents whenever they assemble in the street. They are pushed back inside their party offices.
In our view no law will help if hartal is banned. The government should make it clear to the opposition that they will be given all protection for peaceful meetings and public gatherings.
We shall also advise the opposition to demonstrate public support by organising massive public meetings and gatherings. Hartal does not necessarily prove popular support.  

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