Mumbai: It is hard to miss Inspector Sandip Shinde and his police van. It plays, ‘Zindagi maut na ban jaye sambhalo yaaron’ from the film Sarfarosh at full blast outside the Prem nagar slum in Mumbai’s Worli Nakka.
"I am running out of ideas on how to tell people to stay indoors, especially in slums. I tell them about Italy and Spain but they do not understand. I have folded my hands, I have used my danda and now finally I am playing patriotic film songs to appeal to their common sense. Yet, 40 per cent of them do not listen."
Inspector Shinde and his team from the Mumbai Police are on the roads for 12 hours every day. Constable Rupen Patil has been on the job for the last eight hours. Standing outside the slum, he keeps an eye out for anyone without a mask. I try to tell him that doctors are divided on whether masks really help prevent the spread of the infection but he is brooking no arguments.
"You journalists need to be especially careful. Like us you are also at infection hotspots. A mask may not be comfortable, but right now no policeman or journalist or doctor can afford to fall it. Abhi desh seva ka samay hai (This is the time to serve the country)."
A handful of people are milling around the entrance of the slum. Why are you letting them break the curfew, I ask. "Madam, in the slums 10 people live in one small room. We understand that they will come out for some fresh air. People have to buy vegetables and milk. We have to enforce the curfew in a humane manner," he says.
The DCP of the area, Abhinash Kumar, is standing by and watching. He is waiting for 150 food packets that an NGO Samarpan is sending for the 100-odd migrant labourers from Chhattisgarh who are stuck here without any money or means to go back home.
Jitendra Kumar from Hazirabagh had sent an SOS video to the Mumbai Police WhatsApp helpline. Wearing a black shirt, he is now in-charge of identifying fellow labourers who need food.
"All of us had thought that we would leave for home on Monday. But Prime Minister Narendra Modi-ji announced the lockdown on Sunday. We have run out of money so I sent an SOS message to the police. There is food today. Let’s hope people of Mumbai continue to be generous. I cannot walk 1,800 km back home. We will leave as soon as the lockdown is over."
DCP Abhinash kumar says that in the last few days they have not had to go looking for food to distribute. 500 to 600 packets of food have come to them every day through NGOs and private citizens. Coordinating and distribution is what he does the entire day.
"The nature of policing has changed post March 23. Crime reporting has decreased dramatically. In my area no serious crime has been reported in the last 10 days or so."
In Maharashtra, the number of positive cases has crossed the 200 mark. Eight people have died so far.
"Of course, there is a worry about my men catching the virus. But no one has come up to me and said, ‘I don't want to be deployed in potential hotspots’. We are being careful. We know that the only way we can fight this enemy is with sanitisers and masks,” says DCP Abhinash Kumar.
A police van carrying food packets makes its entry. Some 200 people queue up for food. Inspector Shinde asks residents who have the means to move away and let the more-needy take packets.
Does your family not worry that you might bring the infection home, I ask him. He smiles and says, "I sing this same ‘Sarfarosh’ song for them as well... lut raha chain oo aman...mushkilon main hai vatan. They understand that not everyone can work from home. "