Social distancing and the general fear of catching the deadly COVID-19 virus take a back seat in Kolkata when the morning bazaar opens.
By Riddhiman Roy
Kolkata|| April 14, 2020
It is nine in the morning. The meat shops are bustling with activity. The cacophony of middle-aged men and women heckling with vegetable vendors for onion prices rises slowly in the air. Old men can be seen huddled up in small tea shops, while they passionately discuss politics. Lazy rickshaw-pullers can be seen waiting at their stands, smoking bidis (Indian cigarettes) waiting for these old men to finish their debate and then carry them home.
Everything is normal, except there is a deadly virus, spreading faster than a forest fire and testing the limits and capabilities of humankind as a race. Thousands of people are dying, while millions are infected.
“It is tough to stay locked up in a two-bedroom flat with your family of five, for more than a month. It is only during these few hours in the morning that the city starts looking like it used to before this Corona hit us,” said 79- year -old Amitendu Banerjee, who was one of the men huddled up in the tea shop.
“I take all the precautions though, while going out. Face-masks, hand sanitization, maintaining distance, you name it,” exclaimed Mr. Banerjee. Although one could question him as to how he managed to maintain distance in a small tea shop with seven or eight other people.
But not all are defying the lockdown just to reminisce the days gone by. Raju Poddar is the rickshaw puller who took up the responsibility to carry Mr. Banerjee home after his morning debates. He and his son used to be construction workers, but since the lockdown they lost their source of income. Currently, he has borrowed a rickshaw from his neighbour and plies it in shifts with his son. “We do not have savings like Amitendu babu. We need to work daily to fill our stomachs. Currently, I pull the rickshaw in all the back alleys, avoiding the police as much as I can, and try to earn a basic minimum amount to pull my family through these times of crisis,” said Mr. Poddar.
Newsnet contacted Lalbazar, Kolkata Police Department (KPD) headquarters to inquire about the lack of vigilance during morning markets throughout the city. According to Mr. Pratip Kumar Ghosh, Administrative Officer KPD, the headquarters have instructed all the local police stations to monitor the markets in their locality. “We also have drawn circles on the road, with a minimum of 4ft gap between each circle, throughout every major bazaar in the city. We have also instructed citizens to stand in those circles only while queuing up in a bazaar,” said Mr Ghosh. But the extent to which citizens are following these instructions is still a topic up for speculation.
According to Mr Debashish Chowdhury, a worker of Make a Difference (MAD) NGO, these are all half measures that the police are taking. He said that the real problem lies in lack of awareness. “Police force is either issuing weird guidelines or beating up people not following the guidelines. There needs to be clear communication between the authorities and the subjects about the advice and instructions issued and the reason for issuing such guidelines,” said Mr Chowdhury.
Recently, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs had issued a warning letter to the West Bengal government for violating lockdown norms in the state. Issuing a show-cause notice through the letter, the ministry asked the West Bengal government to furnish with details and reasons for violating lockdown in the state and also advised the state that violating the Home Ministry’s advice would attract “penal action under the act” (Disaster Management Act, 2005).
“As per further reports received from the security agencies, gradual dilution of lockdown has been reported from West Bengal with an increase in the number of exceptions provided by the state government,” the letter stated.
The letter further said, “Shops relating to non-essential items have been allowed to function. There is no regulation in the vegetable, fish and mutton markets where people have been throbbing in complete violation of social distancing.”
According to the ministry, the places where the violations took place in Kolkata include Raja Bazar, Narkeldanga, Topsia, Metiabruz, Garden reach, Ekbalpur and Maniktala.
“It is requested that strict action be taken in the matter, and a report in this regard may be furnished to the ministry urgently. It is further requested to take measures to prevent measures to prevent recurrence of such violation in future,” the ministry warned in the letter.
Currently, the nation-wide lockdown has been extended till May 3, 2020.