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article imageGood cop, bad cop as Indian police deal with lockdown rebels

By AFP     Apr 1, 2020 in World

One minute they're dancing in the street in comical coronavirus helmets, the next they're seen beating people for flouting a nationwide lockdown -- Indian police have played good cop, bad cop in a bid to halt the spread of coronavirus.

The streets of India's cities have been largely deserted for more than a week of the government's 21-day lockdown -- no mean feat in a country of 1.3 billion people famed for their flexible attitude towards authority.

People who ignored the lockdown in Chennai were forced by police to don masks and placards reading &...
People who ignored the lockdown in Chennai were forced by police to don masks and placards reading "Don't come out, don't go near to corona" as punishment
Arun SANKAR, AFP

Police admit it has been hard work to keep citizens in their homes, while one analyst said some degree of coercion was needed to enforce government orders.

In Bangalore, traffic police are using humour to discourage drivers from venturing out.

Two officers wearing red and green coronavirus helmets regularly dance around miscreant road users after pulling them over, while their colleagues blow horns and bang gongs to simulate a virus attack.

Some lockdown breakers in Mumbai were forced to do squats as punishment
Some lockdown breakers in Mumbai were forced to do squats as punishment
INDRANIL MUKHERJEE, AFP

Vijay Hadagil, inspector of police at the traffic department said the tableau aimed to raise awareness that "the notorious coronavirus is spreading like anything".

In Chennai, police inspector Rajesh Babu joined with a local artist to design a helmet with red spikes and bulbs to shock drivers there.

Elsewhere, police have handed out masks and gloves in slums, distributed food to migrant workers trying to get home -- and also taken millions of dollars worth of fake masks and sanitizers off the market.

A policeman on a horse painted with coronvirus spots during the lockdown in Peapally Mandal village ...
A policeman on a horse painted with coronvirus spots during the lockdown in Peapally Mandal village, Andhra Pradesh
STR, AFP

Despite the good cop routine, authorities have also been embarrassed by videos on social media from the early lockdown days showing Delhi police beating vegetable traders at a market that remained open after the shutdown was ordered.

Police in other states have been shown administering roadside beatings to drivers, or making lockdown breakers do squats and leapfrogs as punishment.

A policeman beats a cyclist for breaking the coronavirus lockdown in Siliguri  West Bengal
A policeman beats a cyclist for breaking the coronavirus lockdown in Siliguri, West Bengal
DIPTENDU DUTTA, AFP

Little violence has been reported this week, however.

"There are a lot of good stories, but unfortunately... good things don't make news," said Prakash Singh, a former Uttar Pradesh police chief and now chairman of the Indian Police Foundation and Institute, a Delhi based advocacy group.

He said the "insensitive" incidents were examples of methods used by police "30-40 years back", and should have stopped.

"People like to break the law to suit their convenience. People find all kinds of excuses for their convenience. So a certain degree of coercion is called for to enforce the lockdown."

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