The coronavirus lockdown has empowered Resident Welfare Associations to ensure social distancing norms to curb the spread of infection. But some RWAs have also faced criticism for circulating fake content, banning the entry of delivery persons, tracking down travel histories of residents and even evicting some doctors or journalists, who go out for work.
ThePrint asks: In coronavirus crisis, are RWAs helping or becoming vigilantes?
RWAs blatantly abusing their rights while enforcing Covid-19 lockdown
Video journalist, ThePrint
I fail to see how RWAs are helping when they are blatantly abusing their right to leave someone homeless and stranded.
Last week, I had written what I had to go through as a resident of a society governed by an RWA, which was nothing less than a nightmare. The hostel authorities came up with their own set of Covid rules. I agree they had to protect other residents, but where else would I have gone in this lockdown?
The hostel authorities wanted to get my Covid test done. When they could not do anything about the test, they came up with another set of arguments. That I can be a carrier of the virus when I go out on assignments. I could not make them understand that anyone can bring a virus from anywhere. It need not just be me and assignments.
Another journalist with a similar experience, who also stays in a hostel, reached out to me on Twitter. Not just journalists, there are videos that show nurses, doctors, and even flight attendants being harassed by their neighbours or homeowners.
While I was travelling in Rajasthan last month, some of the migrants, who were walking towards their home, also had to face these issues. The reason they had to leave their homes after lockdown was because the homeowners would not let them stay.
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked the nation to show their gratitude for frontline workers and essential services, by clapping and clanging utensils, the entire nation was at their balconies, and some were also on the roads. But what happened then?
RWA’s should stop discriminating and pinning the blame on a select few
Special correspondent, ThePrint
The RWAs have been proactive in ensuring the implementation of the lockdown in their jurisdiction with the help of government agencies. Gated communities have become fortresses like those in GK 1, N block and Mayur Vihar. They have guards stationed for multiple checks across apartments. Trespassers are stared at and often interrogated. The atmosphere of anxiety with such intense security can lead some people to behave irresponsibly.
My biggest concern remains with the attitude of RWAs towards the ‘other’ i.e. lower class. The idea that only a security guard, a cook or a vegetable vendor among others can pass on the virus and not the residents themselves is problematic. The “othering” of the likes of drivers and delivery persons needs to stop. Three persons were tested positive in a Defence Colony neighbourhood and the Delhi Police blamed the family’s security guard. An FIR was also filed against him.
RWAs also need to understand the relevance of essential services. As a journalist, I’ve had to swap between four houses over the last two weeks because of the lack of understanding. The guard in the Defence Colony neighbourhood was also an essential service who was overlooked. Doctors, another essential service, aren’t spared harassment from their landlords or nosy neighbours either.
I understand the motive of the RWAs, but they should stop discriminating and pinning the blame for virus spread on a select few. The selective approach is what makes them appear more as vigilantes.
Stray incidents of misbehavior by RWAs do not undo their contribution in Covid fight
Special Correspondent, ThePrint
By their definition, RWAs across the country are meant to protect the collective interest of residents, who ultimately give them the right to take decisions on their behalf. They are the urban variant of panchayats, which don’t necessarily hold up liberal ideas of justice and equality, but broadly represent the ethos of the village.
During a crisis as unparalleled as the Covid-19 outbreak, from governments to families and from hostels to RWAs – all decision-making units have become less democratic than they were.
But turns out, most middle and upper-middle class Indians would have it no other way. “Stray” incidents of RWAs not allowing doctors, journalists, delivery persons – and all others delivering essential services on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cue – to enter gated societies do not undo the several steps taken by the same RWAs to maintain high standards of hygiene, making provisions for guards to stay within the societies and create contribution pools for domestic workers who don’t have the option to “work from home”. These steps don’t make news only because they aren’t aberrations. Every other society is taking steps to ensure that their residents and workers, and by extension, their cities remain safe.
If RWAs are increasingly coming across as vigilantes, parochial or too nosey to liberals, it is because the liberals are finding themselves at odds with the emerging collective ethos of middle and upper-middle classes in society at large.
RWA members are like foot soldiers. They are doing their bit to curb virus spread
The people living in densely populated slums of India are on their own. The government is looking after people living in shelter homes. Panchayat heads are ensuring that rural India follows the lockdown. Police are making sure that people don’t walk out needlessly in small towns.
But for most of the middle class in urban pockets, it is the RWAs which are helping them during the quarantine. There have been some reports of the RWAs stopping cooks, cleaners, deliverymen and courier agents from entering societies, but largely they have acted like foot soldiers caring for people living in their jurisdiction.
You cannot enter or leave these societies easily because you can’t escape the watchful eyes of the security. In many apartments one has to provide details before entering the premises. The security guards may not be medical experts, who can stop the spread of the virus, but they do know their job very well. They are strictly implementing the practice of hand washing and sanitisation. This is an initiative to laud.
By Pia Krishnankutty, journalist at ThePrint