Illustration: Soham Sen | ThePrint
Illustration: Soham Sen | ThePrint
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Prime Minister Narendra Modi Tuesday announced a 21-day lockdown in India to contain the spread of coronavirus. The government also invoked the Disaster Management Act 2005, which mandates up to two years of imprisonment, if the Centre’s guidelines on the lockdown are violated. Telangana CM K. Chandrashekar Rao has said that if people do not follow government orders, then he will seek “army deployment” and “shoot-at-sight order will be issued”.

ThePrint asks: 21-day coronavirus lockdown: Should Indians be punished for violations or persuaded more?

Breaking rules is a virtue for Indians. Fear of punishment can keep them in Covid-19 lockdown

Maxwell Pereira
Former joint police commissioner, Delhi

Despite the worldwide crisis caused by the coronavirus, India is yet to wake up to its reality. As I have often said, we Indians are a unique breed. We revel in being cowardly yet rebellious, finding our courage only when we are part of a mob. Our rebellious nature makes us find virtue in breaking rules — as did Chandi in Mahabharata. And we believe that rules are made only for others, a trait amply demonstrated by our politicians. We either violate rules in secret when we believe no one’s looking, or when we are in a crowd and find a false sense of strength.

While persuasion is the best way to make people obey the government’s guidelines, fear of real punishment is perhaps the only thing that works for Indian, as it did when Indira Gandhi imposed the much-maligned Emergency. Punishing a few to set examples will not harm.

KCR’ spoke strongly to put fear in the minds of those who are not following the lockdown

Abid Rasool Khan
Former chairman, State Minorities Commission, Telangana

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There has been a build-up towards educating people that social-distancing is necessary, but unfortunately, we have seen that religious and non-religious gatherings continue to take place. Telangana chief minister K. Chandrashekar Rao has been persuasive. Time and again, he has held press conferences and spoken to the media. He has also ordered all the MLAs and the ministers to educate the people. Now, when the situation is very serious throughout the world, he has taken the decision to lock down the state, keeping in mind the safety of the people. Despite that, we see some of the people, especially roaming on the streets. To put fear into their minds, he has spoken in a very strong language. However, he himself has been very clear that he doesn’t want to be very stern. People need to follow the lockdown voluntarily because it is in their interest.

Telangana is one of the very successful states where we have been able to implement the lockdown all the borders. KCR’s shoot at sight statement is to show his seriousness in this matter. If need be, we will take the help of the paramilitary forces to ensure that out. We are also doing everything required to mitigate the suffering of the people.

Citizens should realise the seriousness of the matter and we should all work towards what is being advised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the World Health Organization (WHO). The call of the PM and actions of our CM should be replicated in the whole country

Punitive measures are extreme but justified for the greater good of people

Dr Surabhi Awasthi
Head, Critical Care, Moolchand Hospital, New Delhi

Democracy and responsibilities go hand in hand. Discipline has to be a part of national character, especially during this pandemic. Our elders have lived through wars and other crises since Independence, which were far more prohibitive and ominous times, considering the absence of internet, mobiles, and media outreach.

A statistical study from the University of Sydney has shown that if social distancing is followed by even 90 per cent of the Australian people, then spread of the Covid-19 disease could be slowed down in about 13 weeks.

However, the question that comes to mind is: can India bear the burden of lives lost, economic disruption and a collapse of a weak public healthcare system during this period? It is mandatory that citizens understand this aspect and assume their responsibility. Coercion, requests, and appeals by the governing bodies have to be heeded to with all seriousness. Adoption of punitive measures is an extreme paradigm but justifiable for the greater good of the community. It is a challenge for us to quell rumours and educate people about the ills of Covid-19. The governing bodies also have to communicate on promise of supply chains being open.

Social distancing is every citizen’s singular responsibility to keep himself, his loved ones and the community safe, even if it is enforced, as long as it is within the legal limits and established laws of the land.

Educate people before using force of law to make coronavirus lockdown a success

Neeraj Kumar
Former Delhi police commissioner

It is always advisable to begin with persuasion, alongside widespread education and counselling. Using social media as well as the print and electronic media would also help in sending the message across. Use of mass media platforms more rigorously to drive the point home is always desirable.

But, should persuasion not work, then considering the fact that section 144 has been imposed, action must be taken under section 188 of the IPC. There should be no hesitation in taking necessary legal action as it is in the larger interest of the people.

In India, a sizeable chunk of people is by nature averse to following orders, especially if they come from the authorities. Another section doesn’t comprehend the seriousness of the situation despite best efforts. Occasionally, therefore, odd members of law enforcement agencies are bound to overreact and resort to extra-legal measures out of exasperation. But their overreactions are aberrations that need correction by the departments concerned. The field staff is best advised to go strictly by the law because then it will drive home the point even better. Actions like using the baton, etc will give offenders an opportunity to oppose the lockdown even further.

Medical fraternity, political leadership and civil society heads must use media asking people to stay home

Amir Ullah Khan
Professor of Health Economics, Indian School of Public Policy

A clearly frustrated Telangana CM burst out saying he will have to ask his police force to kill those who ignore the lockdown orders. People are still found on the roads, clearly without any intention to rush to a hospital or a pharmacy. Kids are playing together in parks. And the religious-minded setting off for community prayers in clear violation of the rules announced recently.

How do we get our citizenry to understand the dire situation we are in, where any contact with a stranger carrying the deadly virus could possibly result in several deaths? To be effective, the lockdown needs far more messaging, information and data on the epidemiology. What we should not have is vigilante threats and police action against people who have a genuine reason to be on the road.

What we need is strong and firm messages, from influencers and people who are respected. The medical fraternity, the political leadership and civil society heads must be seen on television and on social media, asking people to stay home. If the best among us can beat empty vessels because our leader asks us to, there is no reason why we will not heed his call for isolation. It is perplexing why the health minister is not giving regular statements, discussing the spread, and telling people why it is important for everyone to stay indoors. Home minister Amit Shah, normally very articulate, has been missing. His followers would certainly listen to his call for helping the police maintain law and order.

Also read: Should India reveal transmission history of each COVID-19 patient or will it worsen panic?

By Unnati Sharma, journalist at ThePrint

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4 Comments Share Your Views


  1. People’s life in India is very cheap.One side fear of death by virus ,other side if virus does not do this job, govt will do. Where are your preparation since Jan 20, when 1st case reported in India? When things going to uncontrol likely,such irresponsible statement floated in air.

  2. I saw the beating by police. It doesn’t look fair and police have not bothered to check the man, who was on his way to hospital. It happened just outside hospital. Police is taking law into hands.

  3. I have just wrote to PM through PMO portal…. Asking him to ensure the lockdown is done by a concerned welfare state not by a police state.

  4. Police ki laathiyaan aaj kal kuchh zyaada hi josh se chal rahi hain. Traumatised citizens coping with such a terrible situation, delivery boys keeping supply chains going, these are not vandals, criminals, anti social elements. To be struck indiscriminately. Even if people are on the streets when they should be at home, the police should be sensitised to act with restraint. Deficiencies in planning of logistics by the authorities will now show up, and affected citizens will get hurt. It should not fall to Global Times to give us a tutorial.


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