Throughout the lockdown across India, particularly so Mumbai, it were the essential service providers, the doctors, the civic body staff, the police, the grocers, the fire personnel and more who fought valiantly against COVID-19 and…emerged victorious. These Corona Warriors moved ahead in times of duty against the surge, on empty streets as residents stayed back at home, protected from the lethal virus.
In Mumbai, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) workers can be spotted from afar during the mornings every single day…lockdown or otherwise. Dressed in their peculiar khaki uniforms, they can be seen scattered around the city early morning, cleaning the streets and collecting garbage.
Civic workers slogged daily
While the city slept fast, BMC sweeper Sameer Waghavale would leave his home every day at 5 a.m. to reach his workplace. He would start work at 6.30 a.m. to embark on a routine that hasn’t changed in the seven years of service. During the lockdown with trains not running and bus service (for essential service providers) irregular, he preferred to ride down on a two-wheeler to start work on time. “I have not taken a single day leave since the lockdown, just like all my colleagues. Our work is very important even if people don’t understand”, he says.
Indravati Hadale, who works on the same street and on same shift as Sameer, took her husband’s ‘position’ when he died 12 years ago. Since the lockdown was clamped, she has been reporting to work daily even when her friends and acquaintances in a BMC chawl dissuaded her from going to work. “I am better off as compared to several other BMC employees because my shift ends at 1.30 p.m. There are many others who have been working over-time to make up for the shortage of staff.”
Security staff remain silent workers
And, among all others, there’s one category of workers whose work goes unrecognised. The security personnel who guard hospitals, clinics, shelters and other government structures.
Dilip Andhale, a security guard, has been serving the public for 25 years. Currently deployed at a municipal clinic, he has been working round the clock daily as his co-workers are stranded in their villages following the lockdown. The guard while speaking of the risks security personnel are exposed to says that he sleeps at the clinic itself and avoids going home as much as possible. “In fact, I was even deputed at a hospital for some time that was attending to high-risk patients after the coronavirus outbreak,” he says. Like most security personnel coming to work every day, without fail, Andhale feels, “It’s important to fight this demon, if not for your own then for the public.” His only complaint is people don’t understand the importance of social distancing and underestimate the severity of the outbreak.
Police at risk, yet worked relentlessly
Seconding Dilip Andhale’s view is police constable Shailesh Pawar, who despite being posted at several COVID hotspots and containment zones, rues about the apathy faced by their lot despite the selfless, unflinching loyalty and hard work they put in. He laments, “People don’t understand that even we have families, young children and elderly who face direct risk. If we are coming to duty everyday to protect the citizens, the least they can do is to obey the orders i.e. wear masks, maintain social distance, sanitise, etc.”
Kolhapur-based female police personnel and widow, Sulekha Shinde has experienced very difficult times during her lockdown duties as she had to report to duty regularly and take care of her young daughter all by herself. She explains, “My mother-in-law had gone to her village in Pune and got stranded there due to the lockdown. She was the one taking care of my eight-year-old daughter when I was away at work. Now with her away, I have to leave my daughter with my neighbour every day when I leave for work. They are helpful, but I am not sure how long they will be able to help me.”
Mumbai’s bus services was the BEST
In Mumbai, most BMC employees, like other essential service providers, have been relying on the BEST buses that ply on the roads only for people involved in essential services and discharging essential duties. Bus drivers and conductors continue to remain at high risk just like other essential service providers and extremely vulnerable to COVID-19 and other contagious diseases.
Personnel fought fire and the virus
Since the beginning of the lockdown, besides the stress of preparedness for an emergency or an unforeseen situation, the fire department personnel have been braving several odds to keep residents safe and protected. This, while, all the time quelling the fear of their family members about their own safety, as they leave for work every day.
“We have staff coming from far and beyond, from even beyond Mumbai, for duty. And, everyone has been coming diligently, without fail without a break,” says a South Mumbai fireman Avinash More. Vasant Deshwal, who has been working with the department for 28 years now, travels all the way from Badlapur where he lives with his joint family. In the absence of local train service throughout the lockdown, he commuted by buses plying essential service providers to and from work. “It took me a good three hours to reach my workplace as I took the bus earmarked for hospital and police staff. My wife and other family members worry about me all the time,” he explains. Like Deshwal, there are a few others who travel from Kalyan, even beyond, all the way to their own places of work.
To eliminate the long hours of travel that employees need to undertake, even during the lockdown, the department has changed the work schedule for the firemen at all stations across Mumbai.
“We are now working on 24-hour shifts instead of the regular 8-hour one since the lockdown. So, we stay at the station itself for a day and then return home to rest for two days,” says More, a veteran having completed 29 years in service in April 2020. “These are difficult times and it’s important for everyone to behave responsibly for themselves and for the safety of essential service providers like us.” The department is arranging for lodging and boarding for its staff during these long shifts.
Simply clapping for medics won’t help
Amid the frontline workers, it’s the medical practitioners and paramedics that are holding the ‘humanitarian’ front and ensuring maximum recoveries and minimum casualties from the COVID-19 outbreak. If that was not enough, there is a huge stigma towards the medical personnel fighting COVID. In housing societies across India, members have been ostracising against hospital workers, nurses and doctors during this period. This, in the time of COVID and in face of doctors’ die hard approach in the battle against Corona, is deplorable.
“Simply clapping in support of doctors fighting COVID, is only a symbolic gesture. It must be followed up by action or at least empathy towards doctors, nurses and other medical personnel especially during this time,” says Udaipur-based general practitioner Dr. Jhunjhunwala.
These corona warriors fought tooth and nail during the lockdown and even after. Today, when the nation is opening up to salvage its economy albeit cautiously, the warriors despite the casualties – thousands affected, some even dead in the forces and other services – continue to work. It’s this spirit of our Corona Warriors which has helped India battle the virus with ferocity…and successfully too!