#Opinion

Violence, Abuse Or Boycott: How should We Deal With Anti-Maskers ?

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Of anti-maskers COVID wave and fear: Two separate videos involving people not wearing their mask at a public place have been doing rounds on social media. Both the incidences resulted in altercations and in one case physical assault. As India battles a second and deadlier wave of COVID-19 pandemic, those who take necessary precautions are petrified, not just of the virus, but of those who refuse to even cover their face to save themselves and others from the disease.

Yesterday, a video of an auto-driver being manhandled by two policemen in Indore, caused much outrage. The auto driver was reportedly on his way to a hospital, to deliver food to his father when his face mask slipped, as a result of which he was stopped by two policemen. The altercation soon led to an assault, after which the two policemen in question were duly suspended.

Another video featuring anti-maskers that I came across yesterday was of a father from Pune who verbally abused his building’s watchman and another resident for allegedly prohibiting his son from using a lift as he was not wearing a mask. After the video went viral, the mask-less gent released a video offering an apology for his behaviour.

These two videos have revived a debate we thought we were done and dusted with in 2020. How do you deal with anti-maskers? When you sulkily look out of a window, your only connect with the outside world on most days, and see people go about their business sans a face mask as if no calamity or pandemic is breathing down our neck, what do you do?

We are all at risk of coming across an antimasker- be it on our way to buy grocery, or to get our vaccine shot, or on our way to ATM. They could be in the lift next to you, they could be on the bike that stopped dangerously close to you at a traffic signal. Hospitals are running out of beds, over one lakh cases are being detected every day, as India ramps up its vaccination drive. It is natural to panic or be enraged by the presence of an anti-masker. A lot of us even tend to feel frustrated because it hurts to watch people flaunt smug grins while you cower (and rightly so) behind a mask.

Perhaps the reason why we are seeing so many videos featuring spats between makers and anti-masker on social media could be a result of this mix of fear, resentment and anger. But is abusing someone for not wearing a mask the right strategy? Is barring them from entering lifts, buildings or shops the right strategy then? Is every person out there without a mask a deliberate offender? For instance, in the father-son incident, isn’t it possible the boy lost his mask while he was outside? Where do we expect a child to find another mask in such a case? Or as in case of the auto-driver, what if he is unable to afford another mask, the one which doesn’t slip off his face constantly?

Fear and rage are also a privilege. Only those who have a functional mask on their nose, or an extra pair in their pocket, can afford to look down upon those who don’t. Having said that, we cannot encourage people to not wear a mask, as it is a health hazard for the masses and not just the individual in question.

While fines or threat of legal action don’t work on worst offenders, doesn’t a person who is caught in a situation unwittingly (forgetting your mask, losing it, having a tear in it etc) deserve a bit of compassion? Can we not ensure that free masks are available at public places for the underprivileged? Can we not bring ourselves to offering a mask to an unmasked child before he enters a lift, rather than berating him for not having one?

Yes, some may feel like this is asking too much from people who are already at their wit’s end. Or that people who do not mask up deserve none of our sympathy. But right now, where we stand, we do not need viral videos or verbal and physical assaults for sure. We need a set of solutions that plugs this onslaught of new COVID-19 cases.  Encouraging people to get their vaccine shot, offering masks to strangers who do not have them and encouraging loved ones to not step outside their house unless necessary are some positive measures we can take.

At some point, we do need to stop and assess, is anger or panic making our situation better or worse?

The views expressed are the author’s own.

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Violence, Abuse Or Boycott: How should We Deal With Anti-Maskers ?
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