Hartal (pronounced [həɽt̪aːl]) is a term in many South Asian languages for strike action, first used during the Indian Independence Movement (also known as the nationalist movement). It is mass protest often involving a total shutdown of workplaces, offices, shops, courts of law as a form of civil disobedience; it is similar to a labour strike. In addition to being a general strike, it involves the voluntary closing of schools and places of business. It is a mode of appealing to the sympathies of a government to change an unpopular or unacceptable decision. A Hartal is often used for political reasons, for example by an opposition political party protesting against a government policy or action.
The term comes from Gujarati (હડતાળ haḍtāḷ or હડતાલ haḍtāl), signifying the closing down of shops and warehouses with the object of realizing a demand. Mahatma Gandhi, who hailed from Gujarat, used the term to refer to his anti-British general strikes, effectively institutionalizing the term. The contemporary origins of such a form of public protest dates back to the British colonial rule in India. Repressive actions infringing on human rights by the colonial British Government and princely states against countrywide peaceful movement for ending British rule in India often triggered such localized public protest, for instance in Benares and Bardoli.
Hartals are still common in Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, and in northern and eastern Sri Lanka, where it is often used to refer specifically to the 1953 Hartal of Ceylon. In Malaysia, the word was used to refer to various general strikes in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, such as the All-Malaya Hartal of 1947 and the Penang Hartal of 1967.
Another variant which is common in Hindi-speaking regions is the bhukh hartal which translates as hunger strike.
The word is also used in humorous sense to mean abstaining from work.
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