A short video of a small child holding her policeman father’s leg, asking him not to go out as there was coronavirus outside, landed in police WhatsApp groups of Telangana Wednesday. Many policemen broke down receiving the message.
While there have been many instances of police high-handedness across the country in enforcing the 21-day lockdown, on the other side of this picture are personnel battling personal anxieties, enhanced duty hours and a restless public — often armed with nothing but a mask and a lathi.
Saying that he can understand why the video touched so many hearts, Rachakonda Police Commissioner Mahesh Bhagwat told The Indian Express, “Policemen, especially those on the streets, are under a lot of stress. People argue with them and abuse them. They also face the risk of catching the infection and passing it on to their families… In spite of rotational shits, they end up working long hours.”
Ensuring people stay indoors and maintain social distancing when they are outside is a drastic departure from police’s usual role of implementing law and order. They have also been asked to check black-marketing, issue passes for emergency and essential services, assist citizens in medical distress if an ambulance is unavailable, and seal inter-state borders.
Officials said that while people strictly observed the Janata Curfew on Sunday, police had a difficult time keeping them in on Monday and Tuesday. With several instances being reported of police using force, a Cyberabad Police officer said, “By Monday afternoon, the state government asked police to clear the roads. But people were unwilling to listen. When every other person argues that he has a right to be on the road, it creates a problem for policemen. To how many people can a policeman patiently explain? Everyone thinks his or her job or errand is the most important.”
The official added, “A young woman argued with me for 15 minutes. She wanted to pick up her friend and take her home. Some people were out just to see what was happening.”
Since Tuesday, Cyberabad Police has issued over 10,000 passes, to medical personnel, pharmacists, vegetable vendors, goods carrier owners, hostel managers and their cooks, IT core staff, etc.
On Wednesday and Thursday, students from other states approached police stations in Hyderabad and Cyberabad for a certificate that they were healthy and want to go home. This process stretched the police further.
Additonal DCP , Madhapur Division in Cyberabad, M Venkateshwarlu said things seemed more organised by Wednesday. “To ensure that the force gets enough rest, we have requisitioned all the staff for COVID-19 duty. We have reduced the working hours for each police personnel to eight hours so that they get enough rest as well as can buy essentials for own homes,” he said.
“It is a tough exam for police. I and other senior officers are visiting them at checkposts and appreciating their work to keep them going,” Bhagwat said.
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