Mumbai’s police force has faced many different enemies in the past – deadly criminals, the powerful underworld or the most vicious terrorist attacks – but never before one which they cannot see coming or know how to fight and capitulate.
The number of policemen martyred in the Covid-19 attack are largest in Maharashtra – in India and perhaps the whole world. The pandemic has taken the lives of 100 policemen in the state of Maharashtra, of which maximum 55 are from Mumbai police alone.
As Mumbai, and the state, became the hotspot of infections in India, the government deployed police personnel to enforce the lockdown. In a densely populated city like Mumbai where communal living is a way of life, enforcing social distancing and restricting the movement of people is a tall order and this task fell on the police.
Posted in slums, near hospitals, crowded markets, stations – they were out there where the virus was. Even their own living arrangements made them prone to the infection. The policemen live in cramped quarters and could not stay indoors, even when they were on mandatory leave. As a result, the police force were unable to maintain social distancing themselves.
3800 policemen infected in Mumbai
Although the recovery rate of the policemen is quite high, the spread of the infection in the police force is staggering. Of the total 45,000 personnel in Mumbai police, 3,865 have been infected – 3156 have recovered, and 654 are active cases.
Among the policemen dead in Mumbai are 5 officers and 50 constables/ ASIs, many even under the age of 45. Some of the stories of these young warriors are heart-wrenching as they leave behind young families with limited means to face an uncertain future.
Many of those who died were young – the youngest officer being a 32 years old assistant Police Inspector who was an avid boxer. And many of those who succumbed due to the infection had the same story of delay in test results and response or hospitalization.
The police high command is paying attention to those recuperating in the hospitals, but as this pandemic has proven how fickle and unpredictable the virus is, many could not recover.
The level of risk and anxiety amongst the police force must be at an all-time high. They are the front line fighters who are still stepping out every day to enforce rules to stem the spread of the pandemic. Just like medical professionals and other essential service workers, the policemen have not had a day of work-from-home in the entire, protracted lockdown, unless they had proven comorbidities.
More than anywhere else in the world
A look at statistics in other parts of the world does not throw up parallels. According the Chinese media reports, 95 policemen died in the entire country due to Corona. The deaths of policemen in New York City doesn’t go beyond the teens with the total in the USA being 70. The infected cases in the USA are 150% more than that of India.
The case of Mumbai is stark and worrying. There is still a long way to go before the Covid-19 pandemic can be controlled. Although the rate of growth of infection in Mumbai is coming down, it still remains one of the most infected cities in India and the world. The inability to protect its policemen who, in-turn, protect the city, is a tragedy beyond measure and which this city would take a long time to overcome.
Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh has announced plans to have the deceased personnel recognised as martyrs and the families would get a cash compensation. However these promises, obviously aimed at boosting the morale of the police force, cannot take away the eve-present danger these cops continue to face every single day.
( Views are personal )
(Vineeta Dwivedi is a journalist, former BBC broadcaster and teaches Communication at Bhawan’s SP Jain Institute of Management and Research (SPJIMR), Mumbai.)