India is currently under a 21-day lockdown thanks to the global Coronavirus pandemic. Unfortunately, a portion of the population doesn’t seem to have gotten the message. While the streets are mostly free of people, no easy feat considering India’s population of over 1.3 billion people, some Indians just aren’t sheltering in place, as it were.
Police have tried public shaming flouters of the order by calling them “friends of the virus” on Twitter. They’ve tried forcing people to perform physical exercises such as sit-ups and squats. In some cases, there have even been roadside beatings, although authorities say such tactics have not been acceptable for 20-30 years. When even physical violence didn’t work, police finally decided to try humor instead.
Now, police officers in many Indian cities have donned helmets designed to resemble the coronavirus in order to raise awareness regarding the dangers of the virus and the importance of staying home during the quarantine. Indian citizens, who are typically distrustful of police, (and rightfully so), seem to have been largely receptive to this new approach.
Gowtham, artist and founder of Chennai’s Art Kingdom, came up with the idea after noticing how many people seemed to simply lack awareness as to the seriousness of the virus. Figuring it was because the virus was invisible, and thus, not a real threat, he decided to give them a visual representation.
"People are not hygienic enough. We have government orders not to come out—but still, we're seeing people roaming here and there without proper safety equipment, without masks." Said Gowtham.
Since the stores were closed, he had to make do with what he had on hand. He took a motorcycle helmet, and using papier-mâché stuffed with tissue paper, and a little red paint, he soon had a visual model of the coronavirus which causes COVID-19.
Gowtham then took his creation to the local police station and presented it to Inspector Rajesh Babu, who loved the idea. He began stopping drivers and motorcyclists, especially ones who weren’t wearing masks, and telling them, “If you come out, I will come in,” before explaining the dangers of the virus and ways to mitigate their chances of catching it. Many people have thanked him for making them aware and have promised to stay home.
Before long, the idea caught on in other Indian cities. The Hyderabad police department soon began issuing similar helmets to their traffic officers and even staged a parade with officers wearing the helmets while riding horses and motorcycles. Meanwhile, police in Bangalore took the idea even further as one of their officers donned a skeleton costume and a scary mask to represent the virus as a demonic creature.
The idea seems to be spreading like wildfire as police departments all over India have followed suit. One can only hope that this will be a lesson to Indian police that the old adage still applies. “You can catch more flies with honey, than you can with vinegar.”