Nepal Police: Their side of the lockdown story
At 4:45 am every day, since the start of the lockdown on April 29, 5,200 police officers sit down for a daily briefing at different stations across the valley. Much before our alarms go off, these men and women reach their designated places to begin their 15- to 16-hour-long duty.
SSP Basanta Bahadur Kunwar, Nepal Police central spokesperson, says the police have been mobilized to implement the decisions of the government and the local authorities. They are simply carrying out their orders. But rule enforcers are often viewed as the enemy. The police have thus been having a hard time making people understand that what’s happening is for their own good.
“We are in a medical emergency but many don’t seem to understand the gravity of the situation,” says SSP Kunwar. He adds that it’s not unusual for people to be prancing about for silly reasons. Some are out on the pretext of having to buy paracetamol. Others cook up elaborate stories of going to visit an ailing relative at a hospital, only to look baffled and start stuttering when asked to provide the said relative’s name and room number.
SSP Kunwar thinks people were scared during the 2020 Covid-19 lockdowns but now the threat, for some unfathomable reason, doesn’t seem so real to them anymore. He wonders why people aren’t taking necessary precautions despite all that we’ve been hearing about the new virus variant.
On day one of the lockdown, 2,538 people were kept at different holding centers around Kathmandu for defying prohibitory orders. Day two saw a further increase in people doing so, with 4,219 being sent to the holding centers. On day three, 3,724 people were similarly held.
Confusion, thus chaos
According to SP Sushil Singh Rathore, the public seems confused about what’s allowed and what’s not. He says there is currently a semi-lockdown situation with only private and public vehicles barred from the roads. But with government offices, banks, and other organizations continuing to operate, there is a lot of movement.
The movement can basically be attributed to three factors that need to be addressed by the authorities, says DSP Nabin Koirala. There’s the airport excuse—you are either traveling or picking up someone. (Now, with the suspension of internal flights and only two flights coming in from New Delhi on a weekly basis this excuse may no longer hold.) The other cover-ups have been PCR testing and going out to buy medicines.
“People tend to loiter around when out to get groceries in the morning. They don’t just do their shopping and go home. When we ask them to return, they lash out and question if we want them to starve,” says DSP Karki.
The police, adds SP Rathore, have been told to make sure everyone who is out has a genuine reason for it. So, those stationed at various checkpoints around the valley try to verify people’s reasons for being out when they should ideally be staying in. From calling their family members and colleagues to asking for medical reports and prescriptions, there are all sorts of ways to find out if someone is telling the truth. But most people are ready with solid alibis.
Except during the 7 am to 10 am slot, the police try to be as meticulous as possible about checking people’s passes and official documents. If they are found moving about unnecessarily, the police try to make them aware of the repercussions of their actions and caution repeat offenders. The argumentative ones, and there are quite a few, are taken to one of the valley’s 150 holding centers.
The problem is that very few are compliant, says SP Rathore. That often results in close contact between the police and public, which puts both parties at risk. Many people aren’t masked and nor do they follow social-distancing protocols. There have been instances when those out on the streets have refused to return home and dared the police to take them to the holding centers.
What many fail to understand is that the police aren’t brandishing their ‘power’ here. This, the police say, isn’t a situation where people should be fined or punished for their behavior, and they aren’t doing so either. Rather, their daily briefing, at an ungodly hour, is all about how they need to be kind, polite and request people to abide by the rules.
Everybody is going through hard times and the police are aware of the need to be empathetic. But telling someone to do what they don’t want to generally comes across as insensitive and sometimes even downright cruel. Thus, the police are often at the receiving end of taunts and emotional blackmail, with many people even trying to provoke them.
“There have been instances when the police have been provoked just to get a reaction. When an officer, who has been on duty for, say, 10 hours, gets irritated, someone whips out his phone and makes a video,” says SP Rathore. He adds that such 20-second clips show police shoving someone into a van, scolding someone, or behaving rudely. What they never show are what led to those particular moments.
He says he isn’t making excuses for bad police behavior. No matter what, the police have absolutely no right to be harsh with the public. Their primary aim is to serve and maintain order. But provoking the police for a viral video is becoming a regular thing and that’s problematic.
Another seemingly insurmountable issue, say police spokespersons across stations, is that of shops in inner roads and alleys. Most small businesses try to stay open at all hours. They will hurriedly close the shutter when there’s police checking but, half an hour later, they open up again.
Altercations between shop owners and police are frequent, with the former often blaming the latter of trying to take away their livelihoods and make them suffer.
“Many behave like this is something they are being forced to do for others. It’s almost as if the virus poses no danger to them whatsoever,” says DSP Karki.
Friend not foe
SP Prajwal Maharjan, on the other hand, says there have been other pressing problems in recent days. One is of accidents due to speeding on empty city roads, especially in Ring Road. The other is concerned with domestic violence. The police have had to stop people on the roads to advise them to drive slowly as well as visit homes to settle disputes.
Daily calls to the police helpline (100) have increased during the lockdown, says sub-inspector Prem Shrestha. There are in equal parts complaints and queries and it’s becoming a herculean task to address them all.
All the police officers ApEx spoke to for this article say they feel at a loss right now. On one hand, they have to carry out their orders to ensure safety while on the other, they also realize why the public is angry and annoyed. It’s a difficult time and people feel trapped, scared, and helpless, which in turn make them hostile too.
What would help is for everyone to be a little more responsible, if not for their own sake, then for their loved ones, says SSP Kunwar. To beat the virus, we should all support one another and follow the government’s orders. Blaming the police and trying to deceive them serve no good purpose.
We are all guilty of pointing fingers at the police without checking our own actions. And that behavior only seems to have escalated in recent days. News of police forcefully closing stores or behaving ‘inappropriately’ travels fast. But rarely do we hear about the public misbehaving with them. Human nature is such that we are quick to make excuses for our own actions while not granting the same liberty to someone else.
Every police officer you see out on the road is talking to hundreds of people daily, says SSP Kunwar. S/he is saying the same thing to all of them—telling them to put on their masks, asking them where they are going and why, and requesting them to minimize movement. Each of them, just like the rest of us, is also dealing with personal problems in their lives.
Today, when the police too would have preferably stayed in if their duty didn’t call, it is upon us to be a little more considerate. SP Rathore begs for a little support and compassion. DSP Karki wishes people wouldn’t resort to name calling. Most crucial, however, SSP Kunwar says, is to understand the seriousness of the situation and see the police as their friends who have their best interests at heart.
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