Times are changing, and while several major rebel groups of the Northeastern region had refrained from calling bandhs and strikes on Independence Day, there was very little impact of such calls by groups on normal life as well as on Independence Day celebrations.
In Assam for instance, though the anti-talk faction of ULFA headed by Paresh Barua had called a bandh, participation of common people in Independence day functions across the state was overwhelming, especially with school students turning out in large numbers.
In Dhemaji, for instance, where 13 primary school children had lost their lives in a major explosion in the Independence Day function in 2004, over 1,000 school children participated in the official function on Saturday.
“People now do not respond to bandhs especially called on Independence Day or Republic Day. This time, for instance, as many as 26 school contingents took part in the Independence Day parade, apart from over 1,000 children turning up in the parade ground,” said Dhemaji deputy commissioner AK Bordoloi.
In Meghalaya, on the other hand, this was the first time in more than two decades that the state really celebrated Independence Day without any bandh or strike. “This year was the first time that the Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC) or any other rebel outfit had not called any bandh on Independence Day,” said an official in Shillong.
The media in Shillong said it was a ban imposed by the Meghalaya High Court on media carrying news of bandhs that had actually done the magic. “The High Court’s restrictions the media from carrying news of any bandh has probably worked,” said The Shillong Times.
In Manipur, which has earned notoriety for endless bandhs and blockades in the past one decade or more, a “total shut down” called by the Corcom, the coordination committee of seven rebel groups including Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP), Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL) and People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK) had very less impact in comparison to earlier years.
No contingent from the schools, however, took part in the official function at the Manipur Rifles parade ground on account of the on-going agitation demanding introduction of Inner Line Permit (ILP) system in Manipur.
“Bandhs are a thing of the past. We have not called a bandh for over six years now. Bandhs put a large number of people into a lot of difficulty,” said All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) chief advisor Samujjal Bhattacharyya. Often blamed for introducing the bandh culture in Assam and the Northeast, AASU now stands against bandhs, Bhattacharyya said.
“Bandhs have to end. And it is for the state governments to take a strong stand and penalize those calling bandhs on the strength of the Gauhati High Court and other courts declaring bandhs as illegal and unconstitutional way back in 2010,” said Guwahati-based journalist Mrinal Talukdar, who, along with a few others had filed a PIL in the Gauhati High Court against bandhs.