Why Concrete Barricades?

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On Tuesday, the government went on erecting concrete barricades at the entry points to the areas declared red zones in Srinagar and some other parts of the Valley. In Srinagar, the barricades were set up at the newly declared red zone Natipora to halt the movement of the people in and out of the area. By the very look of it, the step comes across as exceptionally harsh and, in a way, uncalled for. More so, when the cases in the Valley, especially in Srinagar have tended to flatten in recent days.

The barricades, while they won’t stop the people walking out of these colonies seem specifically geared to stop the movement of traffic in and out of them. This is both ridiculous and dangerous. What if there is a fire in these colonies and the fire brigade needs to move in? What if any person is taken seriously ill and needs to be moved to hospital? And if there are other exit routes from these colonies then what is the fun of blocking the one entry point with a concrete barricade? There are no convincing answers.

These barricades make for an apocalyptic sight and should have been avoided. And that too at a time when the people have begun to volunteer to ensure social distancing in their respective colonies. They have also set up makeshift barricades which can be easily removed once the time to lift the lockdown. So, where did the need for officially sanctioned concrete barricades come up? It is almost as if the government thrives in strengthening the curbs on people, no doubt for valid reasons, but a part of it comprising the extreme measures like erecting barricades is almost being resorted to for its own sake.

Government has justified the concrete barriers on the grounds that the people have damaged and removed barricades during nights. Underlying this rationale is a troubling assumption: that people are like cattle and so only the government can think for them and guide their behaviour in a particular direction. This thinking also denies people any agency and so empowers the government to think for them.

Going by this understanding the government would need to micro-manage the public life to ensure people do not contract COVID-19. But the problem with this approach is that for all the all-encompassing powers of a modern government it can’t be ubiquitous and omnipotent. It has no option but to trust the people to do the right thing. People need to be sufficiently informed about the disease and urged to follow the precautions and they will certainly obey the advice. Their powerful incentive to do so is that it is in their own interest.

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