The Corona warriors in khaki
The COVID-19 pandemic has taken the world by a storm. In the fight against this pandemic, India had announced a 21-day lockdown on March 24, 2020. As the lockdown period drew to an end on April 14, 2020, the Prime Minister of India addressed the nation and announced a 19-day extension of that lockdown. This move was introduced in an effort to 'break the chain' of transmission of the virus and enforce social distancing amongst the citizens.
The guidelines for the nationwide lockdown rule that each citizen must remain at home except for emergencies. As the whole nation is shut down and the state borders remain sealed, only essential services are plying. While stepping out for essentials is allowed, people are advised to maintain at least one-meter distance, wear masks and use alcohol-based sanitizer. In order to ensure and enforce social distancing, the warriors at the forefront have been the local police forces and the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs).
During his address, PM Modi also requested each citizen of the country to extend their support and respect for the COVID-19 warriors such as health workers, sanitation workers, police forces and security personnel who are selflessly at the forefront in the fight against this outbreak.
Additionally, the central government recently announced an insurance cover package worth Rs. 50 lakhs for healthcare workers who may contract the virus while they are on duty. While some states and union territories like Uttar Pradesh and Delhi have also come out with insurance packages for another important section of front line workers, the central government is yet to do so. In the fight against COVID-19, more than 100 policemen have been tested positive for the infection while four policemen have lost their lives and the number is expected to rise.
Across the nation, the security forces have been active round-the-clock in full capacity. They are not only deployed on the ground but also in containment zones and hotspots, bus stops and hospitals. Unfortunately, despite efforts on the part of the forces to procure enough safety equipment, there have been reported shortages. It is important to note that the risk to policemen is not just to those on-duty but also to their families, which include young children and aged parents.
While these men in uniform selflessly choose to put their lives at risk, their families remain at home living their lives in doubt and fear. Many state police departments have arranged for personnel to stay in police training institutes and stations to limit their exposure to families, but not all personnel on duty can be accommodated in these facilities. In fact, many security personnel have chosen to maintain distance from their families even while at home and confine themselves to cordoned areas.
The forces have found several entertaining ways to reach out to the public and impart them the right messages. This new avatar of the forces is far from the typical image of the high-handed enforcer of the law and order. Sub-Inspector (SI) Harjeet Singh of Punjab Police has emerged as a shining symbol of the nation’s fight against the coronavirus.
In an effort to connect to the public, the Punjab Police partnered with digital marketing firm DesignBoxed. They came up with creative videos that have animation of policemen performing traditional Punjabi dance Bhangra, posting memes as well as doing live sessions with officers explaining the dos and don’ts. Punjab Police has also opened an account on the famous video sharing app Tik-Tok in order to spread awareness. Their videos have garnered more than 50 million views within 10 days. Similarly, Kerala Police has also come out with a hand washing dance in order to promote best practices while Gujarat policewomen used their traditional dance Garba to reiterate the message of social distancing.
Bengaluru and Mumbai Police are also doing their part for society in innovative ways with unique themed helmets, special drives and messages. In Chennai, a police inspector, wore a specially constructed coronavirus helmet while stopping vehicles and pedestrians at checkpoints. Another police officer in Indore was seen dressed up in a ghost-themed attire while Andhra Pradesh Police used a horse painted with images of COVID-19 to stop people from breaching guidelines.
In order to raise the spirits of citizens stuck in their homes and deliver a message of hope, a police officer in Chhattisgarh was seen singing a rendition of a popular Bollywood song. The song proposes ways to tackle the virus and promises citizens that they will be able to step outside and see the light of day after this pandemic subsides. However, in order to do that, first they need to follow the rules of staying indoors to enable the safety of others. Similarly, forces in Kolkata have also been seen using renditions of famous Bengali songs to spread awareness among the public.
Instances of social welfare initiatives like provisioning of food rations for the needy have also been made possible via the police stations in multiple places. The Intelligence Bureau , the core agency in the national security apparatus, through its Multi Agency Centre (MAC) and technical group along with the police officials, were instrumental in tracking down the thousands of people who had attended the Tablighi Jamaat event in the shortest span of time. The quick response, error free operations and intensive testing by the forces helped the nation emerge from an otherwise devastating situation. There is no doubt that the battle is being led on the front line by healthcare professionals and policemen.
These innovative ways and kind initiatives undertaken by the police have gathered much attention and praise from people across the country. Many Indians have taken to social media to express their gratitude and support for the forces by sharing heartening messages along with pictures and videos of these acts by the forces.
The police, the most vulnerable community after the medical fraternity, are working in adverse conditions. The father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi had always envisioned the police force as a non-violent peace brigade to deal with internal disturbances particularly from unruly crowds. In this scenario, the entire country has seen that they have tried to turn a new chapter in their history and are working towards achieving that role envisioned for them by Gandhiji.
The police and the tragedy of its distorted perception is one which is difficult to tackle. The police brand in India needs some calibration, some introspection, some discipline and a two-way effort. The current situation presents a chance for the police as well to re-invent itself as the people’s force. In these odd times, the khaki remains at forefront of not only implementation of the law but also social welfare and social defence. The nation owes a debt of gratitude to its warriors in khaki: the ones who choose to serve the country away from the spotlight.