Telangana lockdown: Chaos and panic reign, police use force after people violate curfew

Telangana-lockdown People wearing facemasks gather around a private taxi following Telangana's government order for a complete lockdown till March 31 | AFP

An unprecedented lockdown in Telangana following the 'Janta curfew' call given by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to curb the spread of coronavirus had started off on a shaky note. As per the government order, only essential services were to be allowed from 6am to 7pm after which movement of the individuals were completely restricted. The state government had also sealed the borders with all the neighbouring states and suspended public and private transport.

Within 48 hours of the lockdown, the traffic police, by erecting more than 150 checkpoints, seized more than 3,000 vehicles across the state from people who ventured out with a valid reason. The DGP of Telangana, Mahender Reddy, warned that violators would be dealt with seriously.

On the first and second day of the lockdown, chaos reigned across Hyderabad and on its outskirts. Motorists poured on to the streets in large numbers, defying the lockdown, making the job of policemen deployed on streets challenging. However, there were also a few instances of people who belonged to the exempted category being at the receiving end of the anger of the police.

Though the media was exempted from restrictions and listed under essential services in the government order, cops restricted the movements of journalists. There were incidents a few reporters in Hyderabad being assaulted by the policemen. Media personnel also alleged that their vehicles were damaged.

A number of videos circulating on social media showed men in khaki thrashing passersby and motorists in various parts of the city. Medicos also alleged that though they were exempted from restrictions, they were manhandled by the police. In Khammam town, a female medico alleged that she was dragged by hair by a male cop to the police station even though she told him that she was going to the hospital for an emergency. She filed a complaint stating that the cop even took away her id.

The police also resorted to unique ways to punish people who were outdoors. At major junctions, violators were made to hold placards conveying awareness messages on the importance of social distancing. In some other places, officials forced people to take a pledge. On the outskirts of Hyderabad, a group of youngsters were made to do sit ups for not obeying the orders.

Meanwhile, the number of coronavirus cases in the state climbed to 36 with most of them being foreign returnees, except two who were primary contacts of the positive patients. Health Minister E. Rajender warned that those who were in quarantine should strictly not socialise or move out. He informed that the police and local health officials are tracking them. The state is focusing on 20,000 people with history of foreign travel who came to the city after March 1. Efforts are on to monitor their health. A total of two isolation centres have been set up in the state for all those who returned from abroad.

Cases were booked against those who violated the quarantine norms. A criminal case was booked against DSP of Bhadradi-Kothagudem S.M. Ali and his son. They had concealed the fact that officer’s son had returned from abroad recently. Instead of being under quarantine, he moved freely in public places. He was later tested positive for COVID-19. Another youngster was also booked for violating quarantine norms in the IT corridor of Hyderabad. He was found during lockdown period driving with his parents just four days after returning from abroad. As he was found to be unwell with symptoms of coronavirus, he was immediately shifted to government hospital.

The IT employees had a tough time as many of the employees were asked to report to office. Many of the techies posted on social media about the hardships they were facing owing to the absence of public transport. However, on Tuesday, most of the major offices had sent out a circular, informing the employees that they can work from home.

The rural parts of the state, due to the fear of COVID-19, people started cutting off themselves from the rest of the region. In many villages, locals, with the encouragement of police, barricaded the boundaries of the village with thorns and tree branches. In some villages, elders and youth were seen keeping a vigil so as to prevent entry of outsiders. In a village on the outskirts of Hyderabad, villagers went a step ahead and dug up the entry points of the village to make sure vehicles do not get in. In towns and cities, the fear was palpable because of which medicos were the worst affected. A number of doctors and medicos, living in PGs, hostels and rented houses complained that owners were forcing them to vacate since they fear that they will carry the virus back from hospital. Few medicos even approached the local administration on this issue.

As the prices of vegetables soared after the lockdown, people hurried to the stores to stock up on essential items and groceries. The chief minister revoked the Epidemic Act, 1987 and ordered the private employers to pay the employees their salaries till march 31. The central government offices worked with skeletal staff. The chief minister and higher officials are monitoring the situation closely and held an emergency meeting on Tuesday.

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