While the central government imposed an ambitious 21-day lockdown in a country of 1.3 billion as a measure to curb the novel coronavirus, videos and news reports have been surfacing online of law enforcement officials turning on citizens they see out in public.
Such reports are pouring in from all over India, where the police are reportedly beating citizens up with lathis for stepping out during the lockdown, sometimes even when the citizens are out to buy essentials, as has been permitted by no less than the Prime Minister.
One such video came from New Delhi’s Zakir Nagar, where the police harassed a meat shop owner for keeping his shop open on the day of the lockdown. This, despite the Delhi government’s announcement that all essential services including shops that meat, fish, milk and other food items will remain open through this period.
The Quint also spoke to the meat shop owner, Parvez, regarding the incident, and he said, “Only my meat shop was open, the police came and asked us to close. Nearby the milk shops were allowed to be open. We have closed the shop now. But meat, according to the MHA guidelines, is an essential commodity.”
India Today also reported that a 32-year-old in West Bengal’s Howrah district succumbed to his injuries after being beaten up by the police when he reportedly stepped out to buy milk.
Citizens took to social media to condemn this police brutality in a difficult time.
Badaun: Migrants Forced to Crawl as Punishment
Meanwhile in Badaun in UP, an incident of police brutality took place where officials made people who were walking towards their native places, crawl wearing their bags, as a punishment for violating lockdown, ANI reported.
Videos of the incident went viral on social media on 26 March.
The Badaun Police acknowledged the incident, and later released a video where the SSP clarified the matter, apologised and spoke about action taken. "Investigation is being conducted against the responsible person," Ashok Kumar Tripathi, Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Badaun said.
Lack of Clarity Amongst Police
There seems to be a lack of clarity among law enforcement officers regarding what is allowed and what is not during this lockdown period.
Other than common citizens, e-commerce companies delivering essentials like groceries, medicines and food have also alleged harassment by the police and security guards, despite the fact that they too are exempted under ‘essential services’.
These delivery services have had to throw away a huge amount of produce, according to NDTV, since they faced severe disruptions to their delivery services at the hands of local authorities.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address ahead of the total lockdown on 24 March did not clearly spell out whether or not the lockdown would extend to essential services, though both the Prime Minister’s Twitter handle and the Ministry of Home Affairs Twitter handle later clarified that medicine, food stores and delivery services will be continuing throughout the lockdown – but the televised address evidently reached more people than the clarifying tweets did.