On Sunday, heeding Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call, the nation stood united to applaud the services of those who are in the frontline of the battle against coronavirus disease (Covid-19). Those providing essential services include doctors, nurses, paramedics, and the support staff in hospitals and nursing homes across the country, who, risking their own lives, often without protective equipment, are testing patients and treating the infected. They include aviation staff who, once again, risking their lives, evacuated those who were in severely affected countries and brought them home. They include public servants, from the local police constable ensuring communities remain safe to the government official going to work every day to keep the wheels of administration rolling. They include journalists, who are out in the field and in newsrooms, bringing reliable, accurate information to readers and viewers.
This moment of national honour, led by citizens, however, does not appear to have translated into meaningful action. Instead, there appears to be a rising tide of vigilante action against precisely those who are battling Covid-19 to keep society safe. On Sunday, Air India issued a statement about how its staff was being ostracised by vigilante resident welfare associations (RWAs) and neighbours, with even the police being called, just because the airline staff had travelled and returned from abroad. On Tuesday, another airline staffer posted a heartbreaking video about how she and her mother were being harassed, only because she continued to work. This has extended to doctors and other health workers now — with residential societies and home owners asking them to vacate homes because they work with Covid-19 patients. Some have even faced the threat of physical assault.
Not only is this kind of citizen behaviour entirely unacceptable, it must invite stern government action against concerned RWAs, some of which are behaving like sovereign, authoritarian republics. There are people who are going to work selflessly so that those who stay home can remain safe. Banging plates is not enough. Show gratitude in reality.