One minute they’re dancing in the street in comical coronavirus helmets, the next they’re seen beating people for flouting a nationwide lockdown – police have played good cop, bad cop in a bid to halt the spread of coronavirus.
The streets of India’s cities have been largely deserted for more than a week of the government’s 21-day lockdown – no mean feat in a country of 1.3bn people famed for their flexible attitude towards authority.
Police admit it has been hard work to keep citizens in their homes, while one analyst said some degree of coercion was needed to enforce government orders.
In Bengaluru, traffic police are using humour to discourage drivers from venturing out.
Two officers wearing red and green coronavirus helmets regularly dance around miscreant road users after pulling them over, while their colleagues blow horns and bang gongs to simulate a virus attack.
Vijay Hadagil, inspector of police at the traffic department said the tableau aimed to raise awareness that “the notorious coronavirus is spreading like anything”.
In Chennai, police inspector Rajesh Babu joined with a local artist to design a helmet with red spikes and bulbs to shock drivers there.
Elsewhere, police have handed out masks and gloves in slums, distributed food to migrant workers trying to get home – and also taken millions of rupees worth of fake masks and sanitisers off the market.
Despite the good cop routine, authorities have also been embarrassed by videos on social media from the early lockdown days showing Delhi police beating vegetable traders at a market that remained open after the shutdown was ordered.
Police in other states have been shown administering roadside beatings to drivers, or making lockdown breakers do squats and leapfrogs as punishment.
Little violence has been reported this week, however.
“There are a lot of good stories, but unfortunately good things don’t make news,” said Prakash Singh, a former Uttar Pradesh police chief and now chairman of the Indian Police Foundation and Institute, a Delhi-based advocacy group.
He said the “insensitive” incidents were examples of methods used by police “30-40 years back”, and should have stopped.
“People like to break the law to suit their convenience. People find all kinds of excuses for their convenience. So a certain degree of coercion is called for to enforce the lockdown.”
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