with the health crisis created by the coronavirus pandemic (Covid-19), Prime
Minister Narendra Modi, in his televised address on March 24, instructed over a
billion Indian citizens to “stay home, stay safe” and used a creative poster
with corona written in Hindi to reiterate: “Koi Road Par Na Nikle” (no
one to come on the road).
some police officials have acted with commendable empathy and compassion in
certain cases of citizen distress, the larger pattern of policing since the Covid-19
curfew has been reprehensible (Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)
It has been
almost a week since this diktat was announced, and enforcing this directive has
had a tumultuous impact on law and order across the country. Ordering 1.3
billion people to stay indoors with little or no notice, and where many do not
even have a roof over their heads, will have a catastrophic effect on human
security among the more vulnerable.
arouse the most intense survival responses, and the non-linear linkages with India’s
internal security challenges will prove daunting. This exigency, which is
already discernible, must be addressed and calls for very swift policy
responses, both by the Centre and state governments. Citizen transgressions of
this lockdown will occur and one chief minister, K Chandrashekar Rao
(Telangana), threatened to “impose a round-the-clock curfew, bring in the army
and issue shoot-at-sight orders,” if there was no strict compliance.
are the first line of governance in enforcing law and order and in these
challenging times, the khaki force across the country has been under severe
stress. While some police officials have acted with commendable empathy and
compassion in certain cases of citizen distress, the larger pattern of policing
since the Covid-19 curfew has been reprehensible. In many instances, the police
lathi has been wielded ferociously and news reports that have since emerged are
In one case
in West Bengal, a man stepping out for milk was allegedly beaten so badly that
he later died. In Telangana, a female doctor was physically assaulted by a
police officer and verbally abused when returning from work. Video clips show a
cop in civvies in Delhi overturning vegetable carts and an Uttar Pradesh
policeman forcing daily wagers to squat for daring to walk back to their
villages. These are perhaps the tip of the iceberg.
India remains colonial in its orientation and the force is more feared than
respected. This is a deeper structural problem and many well-meaning attempts
at instituting reforms have floundered due to political chicanery and the nexus
with organised crime.
India’s societal stability over the next few months will depend to a large
extent on the competence and integrity of the police as they deal with an
unprecedented scale of human dislocation and deprivation. Mass hunger has to be
prevented and the State machinery is evolving policy responses daily and
firefighting to the best of its limited ability.
merits recall at this bleak moment that with objective political oversight,
professionals in India can rise to the challenge. This has been demonstrated
periodically quietly and unobtrusively — be it the Kumbh Mela where almost 150
million pilgrims are managed over a 100-day period quite smoothly, or similar
large congregations that punctuate the Indian calendar.
current Covid-19 curfew is sui generis and national capacity will have to be
mobilised on a war-footing to protect the rudimentary envelope of human
security in India with its myriad distortions. Distribution of food stocks from
the national granary and enabling this to reach the poor, evolving
food-for-work programmes while respecting social distancing norms, catering to
the elderly/sick/children on priority, providing public toilets with
appropriate disposal of waste to avoid further health problems — the immediate
list of must-do activities is daunting.
security and a certain modicum of survival and dignity in India are maintained
through a complex and fragile web of informal networks — many of which are
outside the State. They include the rural, semi-urban and densely-populated
cities that are serviced by the daily-wage earner, the ragpicker, the dhabas
and the neighbourhood kirana shops and chemist to list a few. We are now
waiting for day 21 to pass — hopefully with Covid-19 contained. But which
exigency will unfold is moot for now.
worst-case scenario may call for temporary hospitals to house hundreds of
thousands of sick citizens while social anxiety spreads. Staying indoors may
not be an option for many in India. The situation in European nations,
currently struggling to ensure enough coffins for a surge in burials, is a
tragic reminder of what may lie ahead in the world’s largest democracy.
internal security is heavily affected by the external stimulus and, with the
recent Islamic State terror attack on a gurdwara in Kabul, the imperative of
tracking jihadi modules remains a 24*7 task. Furthermore, the Maoist attack in
Chhattisgarh on March 23 that killed 17 security personnel points to the
spectrum of national security challenges that have to be kept on the policy
radar. Mobilising volunteers from every institution to manage the 21-day
national curfew and containing mass social disorder is imperative. It may be
prudent to direct the armed forces to step in and provide aid to civil power as
mandated by the Constitution.
Headline: The lockdown has a strong internal security component. Manage it
Source: The Hindustan Times