Amid lockdown, villagers attack cops, crowds flock to markets on Ram Navami in Bengal
Despite repeated warnings, violation of social distancing guidelines continued to be a common sight in Bengal with a few villagers attacking policemen on Wednesday night for trying to enforce lockdown orders.
On Thursday, the festival of Ram Navami too was celebrated in certain pockets of Kolkata and the districts.
As 16 more patients tested positive for Covid-19 since Wednesday night, people in most parts of Kolkata and other cities did not leave their homes on Thursday. The stark violations thus triggered sharp reactions.
People thronged vegetable markets in Kolkata and the districts, with very few keeping distance from the next person. On Thursday, prayers were offered at several temples on the occasion of Ram Navami and believers thronged in groups. Village fairs were organised in Purulia, Bankura and Cooch Behar districts. In Kurseong, however, the traditional Ram Navami fair was not held.
“This is not the time to play carom or engage in chitchat with your friends at street corners. These can wait. If you do not adhere to social distancing, the consequences can be severe,” chief minister Mamata Banerjee had said on Wednesday afternoon.
Hours later, a police team was attacked by some young men who were found drinking by the roadside at Dharmatala village in South 24 Parganas. Some local youth also pelted stones at a police van..
“Five police personnel were injured and seven villagers were arrested,” said a district police officer who did not want to be named. He said, the villagers accused the policemen of being “too strict.” In adjacent North 24 Parganas district, policemen caught some villagers gambling.
Significantly, Banerjee, who allowed sweet shops to stay open from 12 to 4 pm to help dairy owners who are facing a huge drop in sales, is facing criticism. “The crowds were already there and now crowds can be seen at sweet shops. Are sweets essential items? What is the meaning of this lockdown if the government announces one relaxation after another?” political analyst Biswanath Chakraborty, a professor at Rabindra Bharati University, wrote on his social media page, posting a photograph of shoppers in a vegetable market.
“Those who are running to markets and sweet shops can put hundreds of lives in danger. Instead of keeping the markets open, the government should ask vendors to carry their goods to every neighbourhood at defined hours. China did this to keep people indoors,” Suparna Roy, a homemaker in south Kolkata said.
Policemen had been very strict when the lockdown began and could be seen hitting people with batons to chase them away. They said they went soft after Banerjee pulled them up and accused them of going overboard. Three policemen were taken off the streets and sent to the barracks allegedly for acting tough.
“If the government thinks that violators should be dealt with softly, why should we chase people away in the interest of public safety and invite the administration’s ire?” said the officer-in-charge of a police station in north Kolkata. No senior IPS officer was willing to talk on the issue.