It was a rainy day at the end of June at 7:10 pm. Majeed, along with his son, was tearing down the shutters of their supermarket located in Old Wythiri, a picturesque village. Wayanad District of Kerala. Just then, two cops arrived in a jeep from somewhere and scolded him for keeping the shop open after the curfew hours. there was a time when COVID-19 The infection was still rampant in the state as part of the second wave and all shops and offices were ordered to be closed till 7 pm.
“We thought it was just a warning. They had taken our name and contact details. In any case, we had things wrapped up in the supermarket that day, ready to close and there were no customers. But the next day We were shocked when we were asked to pay a fine of Rs 3,000 from the local police station. It is fine to keep the shop open for 10 extra minutes,” Majeed said on a recent day.
At the police station the next day, Majeed said he requested the local inspector to impose the fine at that time or at least reduce it. He explained that the fine amount was more than the entire sale made at the supermarket that day and that he was under great financial pressure.
“But he made it clear that there was no other option but to pay the full fine. So we paid for it. What else can we do? Can we react against the police? If we do so, they will file a case against us,” Majeed said.
Ironically, Majeed’s fears were soon taken over by his next-door neighbor Shamir, who ran a hole-in-the-wall shop selling tea and snacks. On the evening of August 3, a sector magistrate appointed by the district administration to investigate lapses in following COVID-19 protocols was stopped in a jeep in front of Shamir’s shop named ‘Hot and Cold’. Seeing a group of three men sipping tea in front of the shop, the sector magistrate interrogated them and Shamir. It was alleged that while drinking tea, he had dropped his mask in a public place and the shop owners had given him permission. They noted down their names and phone numbers, indicating that the police would fine them.
“Immediately, Shamir and my younger brother Aashiq requested him not to proceed with the fine. They told him that he had been fined on similar charges earlier and he would not be able to pay it this time due to financial constraints. The shop had to be closed for several weeks due to the lockdown and restrictions. Three families depend on that shop,” said Shamir’s brother Shaheer, who also has a stake in the shop.
But when the sector magistrate refused to quash the fine, Sameer and other locals surrounded the jeep and stopped it from leaving. In a video going viral on social media, a man is seen lying on the road in front of the jeep, whose identity has not been identified. “If you have to go, you have to run over me,” he is heard shouting.
Other locals, who look angry, are heard saying, “When you’ve got a little authority, don’t try to abuse it. Thousands of people are living without masks inside the resorts here. Do you fine them? A common man cannot drink tea on the street.
A day after that protest, based on the sector magistrate’s statement, the local police registered a case against Shamir for ‘preventing a public servant from discharging his duty’. Though he has not been arrested till date, the shop has been closed since then.
Shaheer further said, “We reacted because we had no option. The fine of Rs 500 is also heavy for us as we cannot earn even that much in a day by selling tea. We will fight the matter legally as we have Have done nothing wrong.”
The police action against Majeed and Shamir is not an isolated instance. There has been a wave of public protest across Kerala, especially in the last three months, against the police force for imposing fines and “indiscriminate” way of registering cases in the name of Covid-protocol management. There is also an allegation that the police is cruel to the lower and middle strata of the society while being generous to the super-rich and privileged.
In Kollam, a case was registered against a young woman who questioned a police officer for imposing a fine on an elderly man waiting in a bank queue. In Ernakulam, a man returning from ancestor worship was fined Rs 2,000 for violating the Covid protocol, but the receipt stated Rs 500. In Kasaragod, a man was fined Rs 2,000 for stepping out of the house and cutting grass in an open field. his cows. the list goes on.
The controversy also reached the state assembly with opposition UDF legislators criticizing the LDF government and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who holds the home ministry, for doing “police raj” on the streets.
He said, ‘The government has given a free hand to the police to do anything. They can stop anyone on the road and they can fine them and file cases as per their wish. I have details of so many cases of police excesses and atrocities across Kerala… Now there is no Janamitri (people friendly) police. This government has taken the police force back several decades, when it was considered timid and creepy,” argued Leader of the Opposition VD Satishan.
In response, however, CM Vijayan defended the police action. “The opposition leader tried to portray as if imposing fines on those violating the COVID protocol was a big blunder. On top of their usual responsibilities, police officers are duty bound to investigate violations during a pandemic and have done a commendable job in the last one and a half years…we must not trivialize the selfless work done by the police. In defense of our people. We should not insult and abuse them to gain political marks.”
According to media reports, the police have fined over Rs 125 crore in the last three months, registering more than 17 lakh violations for several offenses including not wearing masks and practicing. social distancing.
Kemal Pasha, a retired judge of the Kerala High Court, said the hefty fines collected in the last three months are a result of the ‘target’ given by higher-ups to each police station to register petty cases. “When such goals are given to an inspector, obviously he will go to any extent to meet them. Police is basically taking money out of the poorest people when they are already under heavy financial burden. It is most unfortunate that this is happening in Kerala.”
“Police are unnecessarily snatching vehicles and locking them at stations. When they were released after ten days, people complained that the tires and radiators of their vehicles had been replaced with poor quality ones.
(Tomorrow, in part five, we throw the spotlight on the string of suicides exacerbated by Covid-19 and the lockdown.)