Power, the proverb goes, corrupts — what it does not add is that petty power annoys. In the wake of the corona crisis and the lockdown announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, those running Residents’ Welfare Associations (RWAs) have, in their over zealousness, taken to issuing diktats with self-righteous certainty, to the chagrin of many residents. In Gautam Buddh Nagar (encompassing Noida, Greater Noida, suburbs of Delhi), things have reached the point where the local administration has threatened police action if the RWAs’ orders — many of which fly in the face of government rules — continue.
The humble newspaper has been banned from many societies and some are not allowing the sale of vegetables — defined as essential goods and services. One RWA office-bearer, after “banning” vegetables and dairy products, lectured residents to consume only “namak ajwain roti” and “do steam inhalation”. Such an order serves three purposes at once: It promotes quack science (steam as a virus blocker), restricts dietary diversity (a bugbear for many an uncle on WhatsApp groups) while allowing for self-aggrandisement during a crisis which calls for greater understanding. It makes it harder for people to get essential supplies, and doubly punishes vulnerable groups like the elderly.
RWAs are, in their composition, undemocratic. Mostly, only property owners have voting rights in their elections: Such voters and those they elect as a result are largely male, many middle-aged. Usually, their power is limited to asking children not to walk on the grass and ensuring maintenance within their enclaves. Their WhatsApp messages are annoying, but provide fodder for punchlines. For now, though, issuing rushed orders, while ignoring the concerns of the many, is catching on among the colony bores.
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