Days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi's appeal to celebrate frontline warriors fighting coronavirus pandemic received an overwhelming response from Indians, reports indicated that professionals who face the risk of contracting the novel coronavirus due to the nature of their jobs are facing harassment and discrimination.
Just on Sunday, Indians clanked utensils, blew on conch shells and clapped en masse in an invigorating display of solidarity and gratitude towards all those associated with essential services. But Tuesday brought reports where flight crew members, doctors and others whose jobs put them at the high risk of contracting the contagion, complained of being ostracised and outright harassment at the hands of fellow citizens.
A woman, who claimed to be a staffer with an airline, said in a video that she and her family were being discriminated against by the members of her housing society because she had to travel internationally as a part of her job.
Adding that the airlines' crew takes ample precautions and get themselves checked if they have any symptoms, she claimed that her mother is being turned away from grocery stores as people believe she may be infected with the coronavirus.
In another video that has gone viral, an Air India staffer and his family residing in Delhi's Keshav Puram are seen being harassed by their neighbours, who were suspicious the family may be suffering from COVID-19.
And look at this. @AirIndiain crew being harassed ar 10 pm last night Lawrence Road, Keshav Puram, Delhi. And they are dying to come back to India if stranded outside the country on special AI, IndiGo etc flights. Cc : @DelhiPolice pic.twitter.com/Y1dI62oLQ2
" Tarun Shukla (@shukla_tarun) March 24, 2020
A Mumbai-based crew member told India Today that she was told by her society to look for alternate accommodation while a Delhi crew member said her house was marked 'quarantined' by neighbours.
In a letter to her seniors, one of the staffers wrote, "Is working for a national carrier and getting back our people safely back home a crime. My society called up my husband to inform me that we should move out and manage something elsewhere as a precautionary measure."
Air India staffers have been instrumental in the return of hundreds of Indians stranded abroad, including in Iran, China, Japan and Italy, as the coronavirus cases continue to increase.
With the crew and staff of airlines facing such incidents, Air India released a statement that said that "crew members who are landing into India from affected cities are sent on home quarantine, and also to designated hospitals for check as part of the protocol. Safety measures have been providing adequate protection to our crew, who have been discharging their duties."
The statement added that the ostracisation of the crew in many localities is alarming. The airline appealed to societies to treat the employees with the respect they deserve.
"These vigilantes have conveniently forgotten that many a spouse, parent, sibling, child and near and dear one have been brought home safe and secure from affected countries, thanks to the heroic efforts of these Air India crew," the airline said.
" Air India (@airindiain) March 22, 2020
A day after Air India's statement, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that their "outstanding efforts are admired by several people across India".
Union Minister Hardeep Singh Puri shared a picture of a crew of the Air India Boeing 777, Captain Swati Raval and Captain Raja Chauhan, that evacuated 263 Indian stranded in Italy, "When the going gets tough, the tough get going."
Extremely proud of this team of @airindiain, which has shown utmost courage and risen to the call of humanity. Their outstanding efforts are admired by several people across India. #IndiaFightsCoronahttps://t.co/I7Czxep7bj
" Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) March 23, 2020
Likewise, doctors at Sanjay Nursing Home in Delhi claimed to have been facing housing and food issues amid the lockdown due to the novel coronavirus. Senior resident doctor Amandeep Singh was quoted by ANI as saying, "Doctors who are living on rent here are being asked to vacate their houses as their landlords believe that they will spread the virus."
Another doctor, said, "Police are prohibiting our mess workers from bringing food from outside. We request Prime Minister Narendra Modi to solve the problems faced by the health professionals."
Union health minister Harsh Vardhan on Tuesday said that he was "deeply anguished" over reports of discrimination against doctors treating coronavirus patients.
"I'm DEEPLY ANGUISHED to see reports pouring in from Delhi, Noida, Warangal, Chennai etc that DOCTORS and PARAMEDICS are being ostracised in residential complexes & societies. Landlords are threatening to evict them fearing #COVID2019 infection. Pls don't panic!" he said.