For the less than thirty minutes that the in-charge inspector of Karelibaug police station stood outside his office as the entire premise is being sanitized, his phone kept ringing. Even as messages and calls kept coming from unknown numbers, he takes them all. Despite a helpline number being provided, for the residents of Nagarwada, Vadodara’s only existing red zone, Inspector RA Jadeja is their go-to man.
For the past 23 days, ever since Nagarwada was declared a red zone to contain the spread of coronavirus, Jadeja has been answering relentless calls, not related to crime, but over issues like delay in the arrival of vegetable vendors, cleanliness workers or need of medicines, food items.
“I receive at least 15-20 calls a day. Most of them are about food and medicines. But we have also received complaints regarding overflowing drainage multiple times which we resolved with the help of the Vadodara Municipal Corporation. With the ongoing month of Ramzan, people also demand ice because many households do not have fridge and the temperatures are soaring, so we have been providing that too,” Jadeja says.
The area housing 700 households with a population of almost 5,000 — over 90 per cent of which are Muslims – now wears a deserted look. As the aggressive imposition of containment protocols continue in the area, which has so far reported 180 COVID-19 positive cases, the deserted localities are occupied by a team of 140 police personnel on patrolling and manning 11 entry and exit points in the sweltering heat.
For many of those policemen, like Jadeja, meal hours have been erratic over the weeks. The inspector says he has not had a proper meal with his family in the last three weeks. He now occupies an apartment next to his own, to maintain physical distance from his family.
On days when he returns late, his wife keeps his food in the apartment. He returns to duty even before his children wake up.
His interaction is only limited to looking at his family — his wife, eight-year-old son and five-month-old daughter — through the door as his son enquires about his well-being. “I haven’t hugged my kids for 23 days. It is for their good, I know. But at times I feel helpless,” Jadeja says.
For most of the policemen deployed in the red zone area, their families are unaware that they are working in one of the riskiest areas of the city. Constable Mukesh Chaudhari, who has been closely working with the health department and guarding them while taking samples, says, “My family in Banaskantha are unaware that I am working in Nagarwada. I have elderly parents and they will get worried. So I downplay what we do here.”
Mukesh says initially it was a bit scary for them too despite wearing PPE suit. “But this is part of our job,” he adds.
Mukesh along with two other constables working with the health department are led by sub-inspector KU Chaudhary. Chaudhary leaves for work at 7 am. As he enters the red zone area, he puts on the PPE suit over his uniform. As the day advances, the double layer of uniform and PPE kit becomes unbearable under the scorching sun.
The day for him ends anywhere between 10 pm and 2 am. As he leaves the red zone area, Chaudhary carefully packs his PPE suit, reaches his quarters and washes his suit and uniform in warm water. Every police official in this zone has been provided with two sets of PPE kits.
“The first five days were the most hectic when I didn’t even sleep. Around 300 people were tested for COVID-19 as a part of the first mass sampling. Thereafter we would get lists of people who tested positive to take them to the hospital. The biggest challenge was to identify them. At times they would provide incomplete names or incorrect addresses. Another challenge was to convince asymptomatic patients when they test positive. We would spend hours convincing them why they should be going to the hospital. We have even roped in community leaders for help,” says Chaudhary.
He has not met his wife, two daughters and son who live in his native village in Banaskantha for two months. “Every time my wife calls, she just asks me to take care. My daughters ask me when will I meet them and I have no answer to give,” he says.