TIRUPUR: The police have been trying every trick in the book to ensure people do not step out unnecessarily during the lockdown period. Some of them dressed up as the virus, some wrote songs to create awareness, and a few even prayed to the public, with their hands folded. All of these, invariably, got picked up in the media and were well-received by the public.
The Tirupur police, however, took it to the next level on Friday, by creating an ‘awareness’ video that has set the internet on fire and left the commentators divided on whether the idea was shocking or plain innovative. In her own words, district Superintendent of Police Disha Mittal describes it as a ‘prank’ video to create awareness among youngsters. She says: “After two days of discussions, we came up with this idea of a prank video.
We arranged an ambulance and got a person dressed up as COVID-19 patient to wait inside the vehicle. Near Palladam, we spotted three youngsters riding on a bike, wearing no helmets or masks. They were pushed into the van. They were shocked to see a COVID-19 patient inside, and tried to jump out through the windows.”Disha Mittal adds the boys were released soon, after they promised to wear masks and not roam around during lockdown. The video, with comical audio effects in the background, did more than create awareness, claim critics.
Madurai MP Su Venkatesan says it creates stigma in the society. “The content of the video is against COVID-19 patients,” says Madurai MP Su Venkatesan. He has sought the State government’s intervention on the issue. “Such videos will create unnecessary stigma against patients, doctors, and nurses. With more patients getting discharged from hospital, such videos will create social issues,” Venkatesan warned.
Seeking immediate removal of the video from social media, the MP sought the intervention of the Information and Public Relations Department. Researchers also raised their voice against the method employed by the police.
MS Swaminathan Research Foundation’s Director of Communication Jayashree Balasubramanium says using fear to advise the public is not advisable. Medical expert Dr Aishwarya Rao says: “I have dealt social and financial stigmas associated with such diseases. Having worked with AIDS Project for the past 18 years, I would say that one must be careful while creating a message or awareness video. In this video, fear for COVID-19 patient is created. It sends completely different messages to the youngsters. Panic, fear and social stigma are dangerous patterns that can be a great burden on the health workers are currently undertaking the mission to fight COVID-19’.”
“The intention was to spread awareness among people as many of them do not understand the seriousness of the virus, and continue to violate the law. There is no intention to stigmatise anybody. We have not given any instructions to the police team while preparing the video,” said a senior police officer in State police.