Telangana: Police battle stress, mosquitoes as they enforce lockdown

Sreenivas Janyala

Instances of cops losing their cool and thrashing individuals mercilessly for violating the lock down restrictions were reported in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh on Tuesday and Wednesday. (Express photo by Pavan Khengre)

A short video of a child holding her policeman father's leg asking him not to go out given the threat of the coronavirus was widely circulated in the police WhatsApp groups of Telangana. The video was a stark reminder of the threat the police personnel, and other people involved in the essential services, face as they enforce the 21-day lockdown across the country.

The round-the-clock enforcement of total lockdown has put policemen under a lot of stress. Instances of cops losing their cool and thrashing individuals mercilessly for violating the lock down restrictions were reported in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh on Tuesday and Wednesday. Officials said while people strictly observed the 'janata curfew' call given last Sunday, they were back on the roads on Monday and Tuesday as if there was no lock down.

“Policemen, especially those on the streets, are under a lot of stress as they enforce the lock down. People argue and abuse them. They are also taking the great risk of catching the virus themselves as they come in contact with hundreds of people daily. In spite of rotational shits, cops end up working long hours, and because of they spend a lot of time outside their families are also at risk. The video of the policeman and his child made everyone very emotional," Police Commissioner of Rachakonda Mahesh Bhagwat said.

The cops doing night duty at check posts to implement the unofficial curfew from 6 pm to 6 am face another menace -- mosquitoes. On Wednesday and Thursday, they were provided with Odomos. “It is a tough exam for police. I and other senior officers visit the policemen manning the check posts and speak with them, encourage them, and appreciate their work to keep them going. We are doing as much as possible to help them cope up with this,” Bhagwat said.

By Monday afternoon, the state government took a serious view about violation of lock down restrictions and asked the police to clear the roads but people were just unwilling to listen, an official in Cyberabad Police said. "People continuously argued with cops at check posts causing a lot of stress and anger. When every other person argues that he has every right to be on the road and insists on not going back home, it creates a problem for the cops who have orders to send everyone back home. To how many people can a policeman patiently explain? Everyone thinks his or her job or an errand is most important. One young lady argued with me for 15 minutes because she wanted to pick up her friend from a PG and take her to her home. There were some people who were just out to see what is happening. Also, the knowledge that they are at risk of catching the virus as they are out on the roads interacting with people for nearly 8-10 hours daily can be very stressful," the official said.

Delhi Police giving masks to children in Delhi on Wednesday. (Express photo by Amit Mehra)

Coronavirus has also changed the role of police drastically -- from just implementing law and order, they are now at the forefront of ensuring people's safety by making sure they stay indoors. Apart from manning check posts round the clock, cops are tasked with ensuring social distancing at markets and shops, check black-marketing, issue thousands of passes for emergency and essential services, assist citizens in medical distress if an ambulance is unavailable, and seal inter-state borders.

Additonal Deputy Commissioner of Police, Madhapur Division in Cyberabad M Venkateshwarlu said while stress levels and tensions were high on Monday and Tuesday when people were out on the roads and not listening to orders, they breathed easy on Wednesday as they were able to enforce the lockdown. "The stress reduced a bit as we gained control over the situation and are enforcing the lock down from Wednesday onwards. To ensure that the force gets enough rest, we have requisitioned all the staff to Covid-19 law and order duty including writers, non-bailable warrants serving staff, court escorts. All those who were not on law and order have been brought into so that we have enough manpower to enforce the lockdown. We have reduced the number of working hours for each policeman to 8 hours now so that he gets enough rest and also has enough time to purchase essentials for his home,’’ he said.

Shop owners mark safety measures for social distances for customers in Pali market, Bandra in during restrictions on citizens' movement on account of Section 144 due to COVID 19 pandemic in Mumbai, India, on Thursday, March 26, 2020.
(Express photo by Prashant Nadkar)

Apart from law and order duty and manning the check posts, police is also busy issuing passes to keep emergency and essential services running. Since Tuesday, Cyberabad Police alone issued over 10,000 passes to medical personnel, pharmacists, vegetable vendors, good carrier owners, hostel managers and their cooks, IT core staff, etc. Police stations across Hyderabad and Cyberabad were also besieged on Wednesday and Thursday by students from other states wanting to return to their native places. They have to obtain a certificate from local police station certifying that they were healthy and want to go home. This process of giving certificates also stretched the police.

“Cops on the streets have to be highly alert and continously on their toes. A number of migrants and poor people are walking to their destinations. We have to constantly be on their lookout to tell them not to walk in groups and maintain distance. Cops are also involved in other duties like enforcing social distancing at vegetable markets, and directing stranded people or helping them out by arranging food or water,” an official said.

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