Hyderabad: If there is one thing that both the COVID-19 lockdowns implemented in 2020 and this year have taught us, it is that the police will never change. For a change, people in Telangana and Hyderabad thought that this year’s lockdown, imposed since May 2, would pass off peacefully, given that nothing untoward had transpired initially. However, on May 22, Saturday, a wave of police brutality was passed off as a tightening vigil against lockdown violators.
While it is one thing for the police to impose fine and levy penalties against lockdown violators, beating up and verbally abusing people or threatening them, is absolutely uncalled for. Not only is it unprofessional, but it also belies the “people-friendly police” tag of the Telangana police. It is completely undemocratic. While one can argue that lockdown violators must be dealt with harshly, it is however not okay for the police to misbehave, be rude or even turn away or impose fines on citizens who are out with valid reasons.
There is no doubt that some, especially the youth, violate lockdown rules and are out on streets beyond the 6 am to 10 am timings. But everyone can’t be punished for the misdeeds of a few. Last Saturday, scores of delivery boys were stopped by the police, and their vehicles were seized. The cops imposed fines on them, and so did their companies for failing to deliver food. How can anyone justify the police’s action? Not only was it wrong, it was actually unlawful, as the government order containing lockdown guidelines allows food and e-commerce delivery boys to function.
So on what basis did the police stop them? Even though the issue was eventually sorted out after intervention by state home minister Mahmood Ali and Director General of Police (DGP) Mahender Reddy, the police should have thought about the huge amount of food that would go waste due to their actions. If the police top brass felt that lockdown vigil was not up to the mark, it should have first brought out a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP). If cops themselves violate guidelines (stopping delivery boys), then who will take them to the task?
Last week, in fact, a family stranded at Narayanguda due to a flat tyre was able to catch its train from the Kachiguda railways station thanks to two policemen who helped them. Not only did the two cops help, but they also fixed the car and sent it back. That set a good example. Until May 21, the lockdown had passed more or less peacefully. Now, there also seems to be pressure on the bottom rung officers to keep a tight vigil, which is inadvertently turning into a nightmare for citizens who genuinely need to step out after 10 am.
There are legal measures to take action against violators of the law. The police must stick to it. There is no place in a civilised democracy for an authoritarian attitude, especially during a pandemic, which has taken a major mental and financial toll on people alike. Most people have been reeling from financial pressure, and the government and police must also deal with the situation with some sensitivity.