COVID-19 lockdown: As crime-fighting takes backseat, Kolkata Police come up with creative ways to help residents

Neha Banka
coronavirus, coronavirus lockdown, Kolkata coronavirus news, coronavirus updates Bengal, Kolkata news, COVID-19, indian express

Six major road junctions in east Kolkata now have street art asking people to stay at home. (Express photo: Partha Paul)

The nationwide lockdown to curb coronavirus has given Kolkata Police an opportunity to display a wide-range of its officers’ skill-sets not otherwise seen by the city’s residents.

From quick responses to social media pleas of users concerned about elderly parents and relatives stuck indoors alone in the city, to putting their singing and songwriting skills to use, officers of the city’s police force told The Indian Express that they are looking for new, relatable ways of enforcing the lockdown while simultaneously helping Kolkata residents.

“As police officers, we don’t often get a chance to express our creative skills. The lockdown is giving us an opportunity to do things like singing and composing songs,” said Siddhartha Chatterjee, Officer-in-Charge, Bowbazar Police Station in central Kolkata.

Since the lockdown was enforced, officers at various police stations have been reaching out to residents in their respective jurisdictions, singing popular songs with modified lyrics, to serve a dual purpose — entertain people cooped up at home, and to generate awareness for precautions against coronavirus.

These include the reworking of songs from filmmaker Satyajit Ray’s masterpiece ‘Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne’, and singer-songwriter Anjan Dutt’s iconic song ‘Bela Bose’.

“Physical crimes have reduced across the Kolkata metropolitan area since the lockdown, so we have found time for these initiatives,” said Chatterjee.

With roadside shops and eateries closed, many daily-wage workers engaged in essential services like food delivery, the transport of LPG cylinders and grocery supplies in wholesale markets etc. have found it difficult to find food. Thus, food supplies donated by residents and NGOs are prepared in the Kolkata Police kitchens where officers themselves eat, and fresh food packets are later distributed among daily-wage workers and others in need by police officers.

“It is a misconception that only street dwellers need help with food. Daily-wage workers were initially hesitant to receive food packets, but later, not one refused,” said Chatterjee.

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Animals like street dogs haven’t been overlooked either, with officers giving food to many who were earlier fed by residents. Horses that can always be found in Kolkata’s Maidan area for joyrides have also been impacted due to a shortage of fodder during the lockdown. Recently, the Royal Calcutta Turf Club, one of the oldest horse racing clubs in the country, got together with Kolkata Police to arrange for necessary fodder supplies for the approximately 150 horses.

For many young adults living outside Kolkata and overseas for employment opportunities, the lockdown has been a source of concern as their elderly parents and relatives are stranded indoors, unable to access daily essentials and medicines. Kolkata Police’s social media accounts have been inundated with messages from people desperately asking for assistance with delivering dry rations and medicines to their kin.

Sometimes, the elderly themselves have reached out for help. Picnic Gardens resident Rafi Ahmed, 62, found his stock of daily medicines had run out after the lockdown was imposed. “I reached out to Kolkata Police on Twitter. They told me not to go out and that someone would contact me. Then, an officer from Tiljala police station called up and said he would reach my residence to help,” Ahmed told The Indian Express.

Ahmed said that although he had given the officer Rs1,000 along with his prescription to make the purchase, the money was returned to him and the necessary medicines handed over. “I am thankful to them. My wife and I are elderly and my medicines had finished. I have sugar and high blood pressure and I was worried about going out because I may be susceptible to infection. I am highly obliged that they helped.”

“We have come up with a number of schemes to alleviate the problems of the citizens of Kolkata to a great extent during lockdown. I would again request everyone to stay home and not to come out apart from emergencies, to maintain social distancing and to take care of your hygiene,” said Anuj Sharma, Commissioner of Kolkata Police.

Following shortages of supplies in blood banks across the state, on April 1, Kolkata Police initiated a month-long blood donation programme, where 50 police personnel will donate blood each day up till April 30.

The West Bengal Police been also been engaged in a similar initiative. At a press briefing at Nabanna on April 3, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee announced that Kolkata Police would contribute 1,300 bottles of blood for thalassemia patients, who have been hit the hardest due to shortages following the national lockdown.

These efforts are not going unnoticed. Kolkata Police's social media accounts are filled with messages of gratitude and appreciation from city residents and NRIs, who have reached out to the organisation for assistance or have followed these activities on social media.

coronavirus, coronavirus lockdown, Kolkata coronavirus news, coronavirus updates Bengal, Kolkata news, COVID-19, indian express

Street art by the Patuli police station and Ward 101 of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation, to spread awareness about coronavirus. (Express photo: Partha Paul)

In east Kolkata, the Patuli police station and Ward 101 of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation have taken to the streets to urge residents to follow lockdown rules. Six major road junctions have been painted with street art, asking people to stay at home.

“Many people are taking the lockdown very lightly and are not understanding the severity of coronavirus. We painted the streets with messages on Monday evening so that people are reminded to stay home,” Bappaditya Dagupta, KMC councillor for Ward 101, told The Indian Express.

Other measures for COVID-19 preparedness have included installing temporary washbasins outside Patuli Bazar and Ramgarh Bazar for people to wash their hands while out shopping for essentials. Daily disinfection and sanitation drives are also being carried out in the area.