Fight Covid-19, Not People

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On Monday, a senior cardiologist Dr Syed Maqbool was allegedly beaten by police and “detained illegally” for around eight hours when he was on way to work. The incident rightly stunned Dr Maqbool. He can’t believe that he was humiliated and hauled away to police station at a time when all he was doing was going to his duty. The case of Maqbool is telling: here is a doctor who is putting his life at risk in the ongoing fight against coronavirus pandemic but instead of treating him as our hero as is done all over the world we are insulting them.

Earlier, a renowned footballer Me’raj-u-din Wadoo was allegedly abused and detained in similar circumstances. He was going to meet his ailing mother when the incident happened. Wadoo said that that the police spoke rudely about his mother saying let her die.

There is nothing exceptional about the two incidents. They became news as the persons involved were a doctor and a well-known sportsman respectively. The cases related to common men don’t generally become a news. But Dr Maqbool’s and Me’raj Wadoo’s cases have helped spotlight the instances of excess in police handling of the ongoing crisis. This almost gives an impression that the government is grappling with the pandemic like a counter-insurgency operation.

True, J&K administration has been fighting separatist militancy and the street protests for the past thirty years. In the process, it has put together a vaunted counter-insurgency military machine, arguably the best in the country. It has an elaborate security apparatus at its command comprising police, military and paramilitaries, each armed with the latest intelligence gathering tech tools. This decades-long expertise in dealing with militancy has not only shaped the administration’s worldview but also how it solves the problems at hand.

In the ongoing fight against the pandemic, the security efforts have thus become more prominent than the healthcare related measures. 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 harassing and humiliating the people is overshadowing the good effort too.

That said, the government doesn’t need to micro-manage the public life to ensure people do not contract COVID-19. 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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