Kerala [Images], it seems, is celebrating hartals. If a hartal is called by any outfit � regardless of its political clout-- Malayalees love being at home, watching television channels, which sometimes beam special programmes.
Staging over a 100 hartals annually in recent times, causing loss of hundreds of crores of rupees to the state exchequer, Kerala has earned the dubious distinction of being the only state in the country where shutdown calls by any political party will be a sure success.
That the BJP, a less-dominant political force in the state, has called the most number of hartals in recent past -- 31 of a total 57 this year alone -- gives a clear indication of the fact that the protests in this parts do not necessarily require mass support.
The people of the 'most-literate' state are so scared of hartal-related violence that they mostly remain indoors, indirectly helping the cause of the hartal observers.
The real beneficiaries, if any, are the state-run shops, where liquor is sold at nominal rates compared to licensed bars, and the mutton stalls which in particular witness roaring business on pre-hartal days.
Ironically, it is the Kerala High Court which banned bandhs for the first time in the country in 1997, which was later upheld by the Supreme Court also.
But after the court refused to stay hartals in 2004, the political parties are enforcing virtually bandhs in the name of hartals as normal life is always thrown out of gear during every such occasion.
A handful of NGOs have recently come forward to create public awareness on the ill-effects of observing hartals but they are also handicapped by the fact that the affected do not get any compensation in case of damage to property or life.
"We are doing everything to create awareness, but there is little legal remedy in case of damage to property or life, so the public do not dare to venture out on a protest day," says Haridas, president of 'The Proper Channel', an NGO.
Registered under the Charitable Act in 2005, the NGO has been fighting for the cause relentlessly, moving a series of petitions against hartals that do not conform to the court directive.
Upholding the fundamental right to organise hartals, the high court in 2004 had, however, asked government to strictly adhere to a nine-point directive that include ensuring normal life and transport, protection to properties and lives and compensation from hartal organisers in case of damage.
Though most hartals have resulted in serious damage and in some case even loss of lives, the affected parties had not approached the court for compensation fearing 'backlash' from the organisers.
"Since court directives alone do not help the cause, we are approaching various quarters including the media to put an end to this form of protests," K Chandrababu, general secretary of the Anti-Hartal Front, a state-wide association based in Kannur, said.
"When Saddam Hussain was sentenced to death, there was a hartal in the state and opposing the US President's visit to India, the CPI (ML) has staged a near-total hartal here," he said.
A total of 223 hartals were observed in 2006, resulting in a revenue loss of over Rs 2000 crore, he added.
The state-owned transport always happens to be the first target for the agitators as that keeps the public movement in total check, Haridas said.
"While the KSRTC suffered about Rs 10 crore loss in 2006, it was 8.75 crore last year," he said.
During a day-long hartal called to protest a murder during the Chavakkad municipal chairman polls in 2006, public property to the tune of Rs 1.10 crore was destroyed in Thrissur, he said.
The NGOs have adopted a novel method to ease the public pressure by sending SMS messages to hartal organisers.
"We call upon prominent personalities to send messages so that the public confidence is lifted," Chandrababu said, adding they were also in touch with several humanist movements and Gandhian organisations to take up the cause more effectively.
"Dr Vasudevan, who was seriously injured in stone-pelting during a hartal here five years ago is still under treatment," T K A Aziz of the Anti-Hartal Front said.
Merchants' Associations, representing traders across the sate, who were vehemently opposing hartals earlier had also fallen in line with political parties in giving hartal calls seeking redressal to their problems, he said.
Kozhikode-based Vyapari Vyavasayi Ekopana Samithi, the leading traders body in the state, had given a shutdown call next week to protest the 'growing influence' of MNC's.
Though state-wide hartals are relatively less in number, local-level hartals have become the order of the day with a least one hartal called on an average in a panchayat in a week.
Thrissur Pooram Festival, Kerala, is one of India’s largest cultural festivals.
My top travel tips for Kerala, recently voted a top destination for 2014
GUIDEBOOK publisher Lonely Planet recently named Kerala one of the top destinations for family travel in 2014. And I agree. Soft, white sand beaches, gentle people, a tropical climate, fresh spices, tea plantations, India’s highest literacy rate, a unique culture … there are so many reasons to love Kerala. When asked, I often recommend starting a first trip to India in Kerala as it provides for a soft landing. Photographer Andrew Adams shares my love of Kerala, and in this photo essay shows us several views of this beloved state, which shares the southern tip of India with Tamil Nadu. For my top Kerala travel tips and recommendations, please keep reading.
Fishing on the Backwaters: a charming scene of daily life in Kerala.
Flying down to Kerala
On my first trip to India, I landed in Delhi in December 2005 and by the end of the month, I was chilly! Delhi can drop to 5 C. at night in winter, and the houses are not heated. I was staying with Indian friends, who were all huddled in layers of warm clothing around room heaters, and I decided enough is enough. I did not leave Canada and travel all the way to India to be cold. I called a travel agent I knew and booked a flight to Trivandrum, Kerala. I flew on December 31, the only flight available, and I cannot tell you how happy I was to arrive in Kerala on a sun-kissed, balmy day. From that day to this, I have had a special place in my heart for this lush, tropical state.
Colourful floral offering at a wedding in Kerala.
God’s Own Country
The motto for Kerala, “God’s Own Country,” refers to the rich heritage, lively culture, lush topography and positive socio-political climate. A Yahoo! answer to the question “Why is Kerala called God’s own country” turned up this: “Nestled between the pristine waters of the Arabian sea on the west and the lush Western Ghat mountains on the east, its intense network of rivers and lagoons, thick forests, exotic wildlife, tranquil stretches of emerald backwaters and a long shoreline of serene beaches make it a traveler’s paradise.”
The bride makes her grand entrance on guilded Palanquin, Kerala.
Top travel recommendations in Kerala
I’ve been to Kerala twice, once to stay at an Ayurvedic resort, and once to visit the Backwaters and Cochin. I have also driven along the coast, making several stops along the way — including to get a hug from Amma, “the hugging saint,” whose ashram is in Kerala. Based on my experience and those of others, here are my top suggestions for a trip to Kerala. 1. Take the treatments at an Ayurvedic resort. I stayed at Shinshiva Ayurvedic Resort for two heavenly weeks in 2006 and often dream of returning to relax on the beach, enjoy daily oil massages and eat fresh, healthy food. There are many Ayurvedic resorts and hospitals in Kerala to choose from, from the serious and austere to luxurious resorts on the beach that cater to tourists. 2. Float along the Backwaters. The Backwaters of Kerala are one of the state’s top tourist attractions and for a reason. It’s a unique way to relax and enjoy a traditional culture on board your own boat. 3. Ascend to the tea plantations of Munnar. Recently featured to great affect in Life of Pi, the lush hill station of Munnar is a centre of the coffee, tea and spice gardens of Kerala. A great place to find cooler weather and to commune with the natural beauty of the region. 4. Track wildlife at Peryiyar. Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary is one of India’s most popular nature reserves, home to bison, sambar, wild boar, langur, elephants and about 46 tigers, at last count. 5. Visit the old port of Cochin / Kochi. Kerala has long been a seaport, attracting traders from the Middle East and beyond, and Cochin was a major port of call. The old part of the city is fascinating, and features boutique hotels, great restaurants, many cultural attractions, a spice market, the famous Chinese fishing nets and a wonderful atmosphere.
Traditional Chinese fishing nets are still used today in Cochin.
6. Bask on the beach in Varkala. This is Andrew Adams’ favourite spot in Kerala, and perhaps all of India. Dramatic cliffs, gorgeous sunsets and a relaxed vibe combine to make it a great spot to unwind and unplug. 7. Enjoy the festivals. Kerala has its own unique culture, distinct from the other states of India, and many of its own festivals. Onam, for example, is an exuberant festival that takes place in August/September to celebrate the abundance of nature. 8. Celebrate monsoon season. I have been besotted by the idea of being in Kerala when the monsoon arrives since seeing a documentary about it, called Chasing India’s Monsoon. While it is the off-season, and extremely hot and humid, it is considered a special time to be in Kerala. Many festivals take place and apparently Ayurvedic treatments are more effective. 9. Stay at a homestay. Lonely Planet rated Kerala as one of their top family friendly destinations for 2014 and recommended a homestay. 10. Eat fresh food and glorious spices. Kerala is the spice bowl of India, and you can visit, and even stay, at the spice gardens. The local cuisine is rice-based, spiked with fresh spices and often eaten off a large, bright green banana leaf.
Kerala is the spice bowl of India
A wedding couple take a romantic sunset cruise on the Backwaters in Kerala
Colorful painted faces, a tradition you will find in most Kerala festivals
About Andrew Adams
The magic moment is what Canadian photographer Andrew Adams excels at capturing. Working with minimal gear, Andrew gets up-close-and-personal with his subject matter and creates exquisite images that evoke a sense of wonder. He has traveled extensively in India and Sri Lanka, and specializes in South Asian travel and wedding photography. To View Andrew’s Wedding Photos from Kerala To view more of Andrew’s Travel Photos from Kerala
The creative eye behind the images, Andrew enjoying the simple life on the backwaters.
If you enjoyed this post, you can….
- Get updates and read additional stories on the Breathedreamgo Facebook page.
- Buy Song of India, a collection of 10 feature stories about my travels in India. E-book version is now only $1.99.
- Subscribe to the free — and inspiring! — e-newsletter, Travel That Changes You.