CHENNAI: Policemen are indeed having a stressful job on the roads amidst fears of a life threatening pandemic. But many incidents of highhandedness by the men in khaki in the last three days in Chennai have caused much trauma to the common man stepping out to buy groceries or workers engaged in delivering essential services. Even a medical doctor driving a scooter was beaten with a lathi by a police officer before he could reveal that he is a doctor.
When asked for a comment, a senior police officer told The New Indian Express, "Chennai police are not advised to hit unlike other states and even some districts in Tamil Nadu. We have told personnel to warn people who roam on the streets without any purpose. If there are cases where people who went for essential work were harassed, we will definitely look into it."
However, several Chennai residents complained that they were given an earful and in some cases even hit by the police for stepping out to buy groceries, medicines and other essentials.
Residents, doctors, those working with essential services, newspaper vendors and delivery men, those employed at ration shops, house help, water tanker drivers faced the same issue. They narrated the harrowing time they had with the police for merely doing their job which is crucial at such worrying times.
Many videos were widely circulated on social media platforms and news channels where people were yelled at and beaten with lathis for coming out to buy basic items. While those who come out on a whim to roam the free streets need to be advised to stay indoors, use of excessive force is unnecessary and should be avoided, said residents.
A resident of Adambakkam, Srini Swaminathan, said that he was scared to go to buy vegetables anymore after his experience with the police on Wednesday morning near Balaji Nagar Main road junction at Adambakkam.
"I had milk packets, vegetables tumbling out of my bag. I was wearing a mask too. Police constables stopped me and said that they will file a case against me if they saw me again. They said section 144 has been imposed and this means that we should stay and home and starve. They accused me of roaming around for fun. I terrified of going out again," said Swaminathan, who has to take care of two elderly parents at home.
Residents said they had no choice but to venture out to neighbouring areas to buy groceries as the shops in their areas were closed or over crowded. At Guduvancherry, at the service road along GST Road, motorists, even senior citizens, were harassed by the police for coming out.
Section 144 of the IPC clearly states that only the unlawful gathering of five or more persons armed with weapons is prohibited. But police personnel in the lower ranks manning important roads and junctions have misinterpreted this and are cracking down on people who move out even due to genuine reasons.
Sadly, a few doctors and medical helpers too were caught in the same sticky situation. Two days ago, near Parry's corner, a doctor was hit on his arm with a lathi and was allowed to go only after he explained who he was. In other areas, helpers who look after terminally ill and differently abled patients couldn't reach the patients' house as they were stopped by police personnel.
"My neighbour's mother suffers from Parkinson's and her caretaker of four years couldn't come to her house today. Many patients who need to go for cancer treatment and dialysis have no mode of transport to step out. The government must look at alternative transport for them," said David Manohar, a civic activist from Pallavaram.
While the state government announced free ration for card holding families, government employees who work at TUCS outlets have been beaten up without question by the police. Three sales assistants working at these rations shops in Tambaram, and Keelkatalai, were fined and beaten up in three different incidents on Wednesday and Thursday for trying to reach their workplaces.
"When I was going from Tambaram to Keelkatalai, near Gurukulam signal I was asked to pay Rs 100 as fine for stepping out. Even after I showed them my ID card they insisted that I pay up. Similarly, my colleague was also asked to pay Rs 500 near Peerkankaranai signal. One colleague was beaten up even before he could show them his ID. He was mentally disturbed after this and struggles to come to work," said Subhash V, a sales assistant at a TUCS ration shop.
Newspaper vendors and delivery men aren't spared too. Near Adyar Signal junction, under the bridge where newspapers are usually segregated and sold, delivery men were beaten up by police, said newspaper agents. This happened at Chrompet on Thursday morning and at Kodambakkam too. Because of this many localities in the city did not get their copies.
"Mostly those who just finished school and college going students work part-time as delivery boys. Their parents don't want to send them anywhere scared they will get hit by police. In some cases, their cycles were taken away too," said an agent from Chrompet, who didn't want to be named.
On OMR, cases of private water tankers being stopped and the drivers being beaten up are in plenty, said residents. On Wednesday, five tankers of water were stopped from reaching a private hospital in Perungudi. Near Shollinganallur, a driver was beaten up by police for 'trying to make money for commercial purposes during such times'.
"Sewage and water treatment plants in our apartments can be operated only by certain technical staff. But they are unable to come from their houses as police do not allow them to commute. We have given the staff a letter explaining this. But the police aren't ready to even read it. One staffer from Kannagi Nagar wasn't allowed to come in his two-wheeler to the apartment today," said Prabha Koda, a resident of Shollinganallur.
Though the state government announced many times that grocery stores will remain open to stop panic buying, police personnel were seen asking shops to shut down in Mylapore, Shanthi Colony at Anna Nagar and near Kalakshetra Colony in Besant Nagar.
Official sources said that the Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami advised the district collectors in the meeting with them on Thursday to ensure that the police does not behave high-handedly towards members of the public.
(Inputs by Sahaya Novinston Lobo)