Mahabubnagar’s Superintendent of Police Rema Rajeshwari has been working as a frontline worker amidst the coronavirus crisis in her jurisdiction since its outbreak. Tech-savvy and attentive to social media calls for help during the lockdown, Rajeshwari has been facilitating food distribution to daily wage and migrant labourers while fighting fake news and spread of misinformation on social media platforms in her district.
The first female IPS officer from Munnar, Kerala, Rajeshwari has had some success in tackling fake news menace earlier when she was serving as the SP of Jogulamba Gadwal district. She used the methods of awareness campaigns, outreach programs, hired local drummers to circulate the message.
Town-criers are the lifeline of rural communication network.
— Rema Rajeshwari IPS (@rama_rajeswari) April 11, 2020
So currently when there is so much fake information doing the rounds on novel coronavirus, its vaccine and videos communalizing the society, Rajeshwari has again gone back to storytelling and folk songs to circulate messages in villages to not forward information without proof. “We are disseminating information around the virus mainly through social media and local cable TV channels as people are staying indoors due to the lockdown,” she told SheThePeople.
#COVID’s ultimate blow will come from community resolve.
— Rema Rajeshwari IPS (@rama_rajeswari) April 12, 2020
Dealing with Fake news, misinformation and stigma
On dealing with miscreants spreading fake news and misinformation around COVID-19, Rajeshwari’s code of action involves, “disseminating correct information on a real-time basis. Secondly, taking legal action under Section 54 of the Disaster Management Act on persons who peddle fake news and circulate misinformation on local social media platforms. As regards communally sensitive content, my social media monitoring cell is keeping close surveillance on mischief mongers. As soon as we sight a malicious message, we act immediately by booking a case and sensitising the community.”
A local-daily reports that until 11 April, Mahabubnagar police booked cases against 119 persons for violating lockdown norms and seized 759 vehicles used by the lockdown violators. Rajeshwari informs that apart from using drone cameras to monitor the movement of people, 96 CCTV cameras were also being installed at various locations. 81 barricades, 22 pickets and 4 check-posts at Jadcherla Housing Board, Badepally Vamshi Hospital, Jadcherla BC Welfare Residential School and Bhootpur flyover have been set up and vehicles passing from the check-posts were being thoroughly checked by the police personnel.
Since the disease is highly contagious and requires infected patients or potential threats to be quarantined, it has led to a great deal of stigma as several reports claim patients flee from hospitals, suspected persons to not co-operate with treatment protocols, etc. Rajeshwari acknowledges this issue and shares how she deals with it. “Well, sometimes lack of knowledge leads to stigma. Imparting right kind of knowledge is also our responsibility. Community partnership is very crucial in addressing this issue. In Mahabubnagar we continue to take the support of community elders and local public representatives so that people feel confident to come forward.”
Apart from busting fake news propaganda, Rajeshwari’s team has been rigorously working towards containing community transmission. She shares some of the measures her team has been following to contain transmission and isolate infected patients from the crowds.
The strategies include:
- Contact tracing
- Establishment of COVID Hospitals and Quarantine Centres – Security cover for healthcare professionals
- Cluster Containment Strategy
- Passive Surveillance along with medical teams. Door to door survey
- Community Watch
- Social Distancing Drive
Active surveillance using technology:
- ‘Community Watch’ teams in all villages
- CCTV monitoring
- Mobile patrolling teams
- Drone surveillance
- Citizen tracking App
- WhatsApp group of Sarpanchs, Village Police Officers (VPOs) and SHOs
- Centralized Call Centre at District Police Headquarters for the data collection on Home Quarantine people and to check their well being and to confirm their presence.
- Corona Help Centre
- Home Quarantine surveillance mechanism on foreign returnees and returnees from other states
“Sometimes lack of knowledge leads to stigma. Imparting right kind of knowledge is also our responsibility. Community partnership is very crucial in addressing this issue. In Mahabubnagar we continue to take the support of community elders and local public representatives so that people feel confident to come forward.”
On working on the frontline
In these unusual times, when different forces across the country are using different ways to enforce the lockdown, the Mahabubnagar police team has also come up with a dance performance recorded on video and circulating across the villages. Talking about these innovative ways, Rajeshwari notes, “It is very important as police officers are at the frontline of dealing with this pandemic. The most important aspect of controlling COVID-19 in India is the effective implementation of the lockdown while doing so we are constantly in touch with the community. It makes it more convincing for the people to follow rules when an innovative approach is taken.”
The major issue that the law-enforcing agency is dealing with is keeping the dense population indoors, Rajeshwari also shares her insight over this major challenge. “Biggest challenge is to keep people indoors. Despite our best efforts, some people do come out and defy rules. And also taking care of the migrant labourers and daily wage earners. Our government has gone out of the way to ensure their welfare. We extend total support to the concerned departments to make sure they are well taken care of,” she adds.
Additionally, Rajeshwari is very concerned about the safety of her team so that they don’t get infected by the working among a large number of potentially infected people. She elaborates on the precaution measure, “We all wear masks. We take a lot of precautions. I spent at least an hour everyday briefing my team about the personal safety measures. We have prepared personal safety kits and distributed to each officer and their families.”
Finally, as police officers have become busier than ever, for Rajeshwari what keeps her sanity intact is being able to save lives. “We have never been so happy doing what we are doing now. Saving lives,” she adds.