Healthcare workers, rescue crews, delivery boys face harassment across the country

Hemani Sheth Mumbai | Updated on March 27, 2020

Police brutality and social stigma making life difficult for those on the front lines of the lockdown

In the days following India’s 21-day lockdown in a bid to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic in the country, citizens witnessed the dark side of the move from police brutality to social stigma.

For instance, many on the frontline have fallen privy to police brutality inflicted upon by forces patrolling cities to ensure that citizens comply with the government orders.

Healthcare workers being stopped, questioned and detained by the police has been especially concerning for citizens and authorities alike.

Healthcare workers heckled and harassed

Buzzfeed News detailed the harrowing tale of H. from Telangana, a doctor who was stopped on her way to work post which she was assaulted and dragged into a police station, an incident which was filmed by passersby and later circulated on social media. H. who’ had filed a police complaint after working 12 hours at the hospital with bruises on her body was later met with a condescending plea by a group of police officers and a senior member of the hospital administration to retract her complaint and “forgive” the officers who harassed her. She did withdraw the complaint even though all she received in return was a meagre ‘sorry, madam,’ the report said.

Ambulance drivers have also faced issues during work similar to H’s. Entrepreneur Prabhdeep Singh on Wednesday urged Telangana Government to ensure safe passage for ambulance drivers detailing an incident where four different ambulance drivers were beaten up by the police in the streets of Hyderabad.

“Ambulance drivers being beaten up in streets in Hyderabad. @KTRTRS pl help,” Singh had tweeted.

“4 separate drivers, in uniform, with ID cards and letters from us. All beaten up and sent back home. There’s a massive shortage of ambulance services right now,” he further said.

Apart from the police brutality, healthcare workers have also been facing social stigma emerging from fear. Neighbours and nearby residents have heckled many medical professionals, especially those working with Covid-19 patients, some even having to evict their homes accusing them of spreading the virus.

The Indian Express reported an incident where a 30-year old Kolkata woman working with the National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases (NICED) team which tests samples for coronavirus, was asked to vacate her home in South Kolkata by her landlord.

The report also detailed pleas from medical professionals urging for intervention. “We wanted the entire country to know that we were being harassed,” said Adarsh Pratap Singh, president of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) Resident Doctors Association. The association then wrote a letter to Home Minister Amit Shah on Tuesday.

The incidents were further condemned by the Union Health Minister, Dr Harsh Vardhan, who then took to Twitter to express his concern about these complaints.

“I’m DEEPLY ANGUISHED to see reports pouring in from Delhi, Noida, Warangal, Chennai etc. that DOCTORS & PARAMEDICS are being ostracised in residential complexes & societies. Landlords are threatening to evict them fearing #COVID2019 infection. Pls don’t panic !#CoronavirusLockdown,” he had tweeted.

Shah on Tuesday spoke to Delhi Commissioner of Police directing him to take strict action against landlords evicting asking doctors and nurses who are treating Covid-19 patients as per a LiveMint report.

The woes of rescue crews

Harassment by vigilante residents and stigma across society is a problem faced by other professionals currently working at the frontline.

For instance, two major airlines Indigo and Air India had reported harassment of their crew members by neighbours amid the pandemic.

The Air India rescue crew who had flown to Wuhan had been ostracized and harassed by neighbours leading to the airline releasing and an official statement requesting citizens to treat the crew with respect.

“It is alarming to know that in many localities, vigilante Resident Welfare Associations and neighbours have started ostracising the crew, obstructing them from performing their duty or even calling in the police simply because the crew travelled abroad in the course of their duty,” Air India India wrote in an official statement.

In another instance, in a heart-wrenching video shared across social media platforms, an IndiGo crew member detailed how she and her mother had been abused and harassed by her neighbours who insisted that she had the coronavirus.

“She (her mother) cannot go to the market to buy groceries because people are refusing her saying that she might spread the Coronavirus to other people,” she claimed.

Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri on Tuesday had urged concerned authorities concerned to extend support and protection to the crew and their family members.

The stigma doesn’t end there. After the image of a Manipuri student being spat on in Delhi went viral, North-eastern students from across India had said that they had been facing similar issues. Brut India on Thursday reported that students in Delhi had been facing discrimination and threats of eviction with “corona” increasingly becoming a common racial slur for north-eastern.

The economic impact

As social stigma prevails, on an economic front, movement of essential goods has been furthered hindered, and supply chains hit as delivery personnel face the same fate as healthcare workers. Complaints of delivery personnel and transportation workers for ‘essential goods’ facing police brutality across different parts of the country have poured in across social media platforms urging the government to take necessary precautions.

There has been a lot of on-ground confusion despite government guidelines on supply and movement of essential goods which has led to workers and delivery personnel straying away from work.

Sandeep Nangia, President of the Chemists and Druggists Association, Delhi took to Twitter on Wednesday to express his concerns regarding members facing lathi charge by the Delhi Police. Nangia warned of medicine shortage as he had received a barrage of complaints from members who have complained of lathi charge that has led them to stay at home and not report to work.

The situation is similar when it comes to workers and employees from the food industry. Delay in curfew passes has led to lathi charges on LPG delivery workers, driving them to not report to work. Twitterati has taken to the micro-blogging platform requesting authorities to ensure that the personnel are issued special passes for smooth delivery.

“Please Ensure Goa Police knows LPG gas is an essential commodity.

Application has been filed for curfew passes but haven’t been issued yet.

LPG gas delivery vehicles have been stopped, and goa police threatened drivers. @prudentgoa - Goa Totalgaz Distributors,” wrote a Twitter user from Goa.

“Dear @BlrCityPolice please do give passes to LPG gas delivery boys as they are not reporting to their gas-distributing agency due to lockdown. Agencies are open and asking customers to collect cylinder from agency office,” wrote another.

In a previous report, Amrinder Singh, Director, Bonn Group of Industries, manufacturer of bread and biscuits had said his company had been facing problems in transportation of its products across North India. Singh talked about instances of trucks transporting raw materials being stopped by local cops at various checkpoints, causing a dearth of raw material.

Similar incidences have been reported by other companies who have asked local authorities to assign special vehicles and set up unique points for the sale of essential goods.

Retailers and online grocery players had also faced similar issues in supply chain and deliveries as some local enforcement authorities prohibited and in some cases had beaten up delivery boys and van drivers.

“We cannot deliver, although there is a clear guideline from the ministry of consumer affairs. Still, there is a problem, and it isn’t getting executed well at the ground level. Few of our guys went out, and they were stopped, and some were even beaten up. It’s a grave situation, and customers are crying for the food to be delivered we are gearing up. We are also taking precautions so that the products are delivered safe, and we are not being allowed to deliver. We have such a high intensity of orders,” said Hari Menon, CEO, BigBasket as per the report.

The Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) on Thursday had then set up a control room to ensure the smooth supply of essential commodities including fruits, vegetables, milk, groceries and medicines amid the lockdown, as per a previous report. The Centre will monitor the real-time status of manufacturing, transport and delivery of essential goods.

The DPIIT has also written to various State governments ensuring that the movement of food is not blocked and permissions are granted to workers, transporters and delivery persons working towards the same, a government official told BusinessLine as per the report.

The castaways

Another major issue that has come in light of the lockdown is the lack of preparedness when it comes to the lower section of the society. As workers on the frontline are facing the brunt of police brutality and social stigma, many sections of the society are merely struggling to make ends meet.

For instance, truckers across States had gone looking for help after being stranded at the borders as the lockdown was announced.

Congress leader Shashi Tharoor had taken to Twitter on Wednesday expressing his concern asking for the Maharashtra CMO’s help in allowing safe passage to truckers stuck at the state borders.

“Dear @CMOMaharashtra a large number of Kerala truck drivers returning home in empty lorries after delivering fruits&vegetables in Gujarat are held up in Bhiwandi w/out food, water or toilet facilities. Could Maharashtra Govt kindly instruct police to allow them to go to Kerala?” Tharoor wrote on the micro-blogging platform.

The truckers were then allowed safe passage to their destination by the Maharashtra government.

“Drivers and helpers are stranded on highways without food and water. They are facing acute anxiety and hardship. Urgent directions are required from the Centre to States to allow trucks reach their destination and to help the drivers,” Kultaran Singh Atwal, President of All India Motor Transport Congress, the apex body of road transport sector had said as per previous reports.

Atwal had then written to the PM asking the government to ensure food and water at tolls and checkpoints to these workers.

Another moving visual that has come to light post the move is the case of the migrant workers of Gujarat.

According to a recent report by Scroll, these workers have set out walking for miles at a stretch to move back home to Rajasthan as all interstate transport had been suspended following the lockdown.

Scroll detailed the incident where workers struggled to reach their destination with no food or water, walking the whole night.

As the Finance Minister announced a ₹1.7 lakh crore economic rescue package for the poor, a migrant worker while making his way home to Rajasthan asked, as Scroll reported: “Who will help those who do not have money?”

Published on March 27, 2020

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