Days ago, Sreekanth was riding his bike through a narrow road in Kottayam. Twice, he went past the house he was looking for, missing it by several kilometres. The third time when he found it, he placed the parcel he had brought and went away. The young man, under the instruction of the police, was delivering a kit to a lonely old man who was living in COVID-19 quarantine.
Sreekanth is one of the police volunteers helping out the state police in ensuring that those in quarantine are checked on regularly, for their needs as well as to ensure that they are not breaking the quarantine.
“I’ve been doing voluntary work since the Sannadha Sena of the government began functioning and the Chief Minister asked for volunteers to join the fight against COVID-19. Three weeks ago, I was asked to join as a police volunteer,” Sreekanth says.
The Samoohya Sannadha Sena or Community Volunteer Force was launched on January 1 to help with the disasters that the state has been facing back to back in recent years. So when COVID-19 broke out, there was already a force in place, which grew in number to several lakhs after CM Pinarayi Vijayan appealed for volunteer service. The state nodal agency for new and renewable energy, Agency for Non-Conventional Energy and Rural Technology (ANERT), became the headquarters and ANERT director Amit Meena became the inaugural director of the voluntary force.
“Police volunteering began very recently. The CM has issued an appeal to let our members act as police and health volunteers depending on their inclination. We asked them and there was a great response. There are nearly 4,000 volunteers on an average working as police volunteers every day across the state. They’d be given an area of responsibility to work with the police, visiting people in home or institutional quarantine, ensuring that they’re not jumping quarantine and so on,” says Amit Meena.
The whole idea of voluntary service is not to spend much of government money, he adds.
Soumiya, another volunteer who has been working with the Kannur police, takes her scooter out to go on house visits to check on people in quarantine. “Earlier when the government services were following 50% attendance during the lockdown, we worked on alternate days. Now it’s nearly every day, visiting three to four houses in a designated area and then reporting to the supervisor in charge. We’re all divided into small groups under a supervisor, who is normally a head constable,” she explains.
Soumiya also has duty at the fish market – if people came for purchases when the market was closed, Soumiya had to send them away. “Even workers are asked for purpose of visit and checked for ID cards, masks, etc. Initially the constable in charge used to accompany us for all these visits to train us. Now I go on my own and everywhere people treat me with respect. There have been no bad experiences with people,” she says.
Not only house visits and quarantine checks but police volunteers assist in picketing duty too. Ranjith, a police volunteer in Thrissur, says his work was to ensure that vehicles didn’t enter a containment zone or leave it. “Other than that, we also check shops and other public places to see if people are wearing masks, we talk to them about the precautions to be taken. Some would be sceptical, asking us if ‘corona would catch them otherwise’,” he says.
Thiruvananthapuram Commissioner of Police Balram Kumar Upadhyay says that it is great that young people are joining the fight against COVID-19. “The police have been doing a lot of work as warriors upfront in the fight against the pandemic. Now youth volunteers are accompanying the police in beat patrolling, house visits and so on to assist them. It’s very heartening to see this,” he says.