‘Walk in one direction, no newspapers’: Apartments continue to impose bizarre rules

A resident of a gated community in Bengaluru told TNM that the apartment association has asked them to ‘only walk in one direction’. Another has asked domestic workers not to use the lifts.

The past two months have been a struggle for Monica*. Eight months pregnant and with a five-year-old son to care for, Monica has been looking forward to relaxation in lockdown norms so she can get some help from her domestic worker. However, despite the new relaxations in norms from Monday, the resident welfare organisation (RWA) of the apartment complex that she lives in has forbidden the entry of any domestic worker.

“My association has been nothing short of a bully. I am eight months pregnant now and they refuse to let domestic workers enter the building. We are not allowed to get any family members from outside either. There is absolutely no middle ground, just patronising and condescending behaviour,” Monica said.

Monica lives in the Medavakkam suburb of Chennai. The 33-year-old and her husband both have full-time jobs and have been working from home since the lockdown began. With home and work schedules merging, she has been finding it difficult to manage her health and household together and is awaiting help.

“They are not allowing anyone to enter, even though a number of apartments around us have started allowing staff. We have explained our situation -- that we are a nuclear family and we hold full-time jobs. But all we get are condescending WhatsApp messages from men deciding what is best for my baby. What is worse, they have been asking us to get a government pass for the same. I have personally called all possible government helplines and all of them have said there is no such pass. The association sent me on a wild goose chase,” Monica told TNM. After repeated requests, the RWA finally relented and allowed Monica's domestic worker entry on Tuesday.

Monica’s apartment association is not the only one that is clamping down on the movement of people. Lockdown 4.0 has come with several relaxations in most states. Autos, taxis and buses too are now allowed to ply the roads in many places with precautions and local businesses are slowly getting back to normalcy. In many locations, domestic workers, helpers and maintenance staff are hoping to restart work but many have been blocked by the associations. 

A resident of a gated community in Bengaluru told TNM under the condition of anonymity that the apartment association has asked them to ‘only walk in one direction’ so as to avoid contact with other residents and has also forbidden residents from ‘sitting in the open areas’ around the complex.

Ratan Mehta, who lives in an apartment complex on Magadi Road in Bengaluru, told TNM that their RWA, the Garden Apartment Owners Association, has not allowed newspaper vendors and even relatives and family members of residents are not being allowed to enter. The apartment complex has around 937 apartments and around 4,000 residents. 

“Domestic workers were allowed to enter the premises only after May 9 and now they can enter only till 2 pm. They will take away their Aadhaar cards if they fail to exit the premises before 2 pm. Even in medical emergencies, nannies and domestic workers were not being allowed. Sons and daughters cannot meet their elderly and ailing parents because of the guest policy,” Ratan said.

One of the major reasons given by RWAs to restrict the entry of people is that visitors could be coming from containment zones. However, the movement of people from containment zones is already restricted by government authorities, so individuals cannot step out. Rumours on social media have also fuelled fear and apprehension, with associations allegedly warning residents against “walking their pets outside for too long.”

“They used the lockdown as a pretext to impose additional restrictions. This includes sending articles to the residents informing them about the spread of zoonotic diseases through cats. This resulted in ignorant people looking at pet owners as criminals. We had to reach out to pet parents for support in case someone abandons their cat or dog,” Sanket*, a resident of an apartment complex in Hyderabad’s Kondapur, told TNM. Kondapur is located close to Gachibowli, the IT hub in Hyderabad.

Sanket added that the RWA also sent out a mail asking residents to refrain from employing the services of an electrician from a 'minority' community as he may carry a “higher risk”. 

“The association in its mail cited that he hails from a containment zone. After an outcry from some of the residents, the association sent out another mail, saying that the said technician is ‘available for service’ but his services should be used only if the government relaxes lockdown. They asked us to employ a staff member, who is primarily a plumber, for our electrical maintenance needs. They also asked us to ensure ‘proper sanitation’ before he enters our flat,” Sanket told TNM.

Screenshot of the mail sent out. The apartment and the electrician's name have been concealed to protect identity

Another RWA in Bengaluru’s Sarjapur Road asked their residents to ensure that their domestic workers fill out an elaborate form with their details and if they owned a smartphone, to check whether the government’s contact tracing app, Aarogya Setu, is installed on their phones. They have also asked residents to ensure that the domestic staff does not use lifts and only uses staircases. The letter also asks employers to ensure there is “no gossip at any place” and that they will not be allowed to “sit and loiter around in the main area.”

Screenshot. The apartment's name has been concealed to protect identity

However, some resident associations have been making an effort to ensure that their residents are safe and at the same time, not inconvenienced. Bengaluru resident Gopinathan* said that their resident welfare association has been proactive and has been keeping residents up to date with the latest developments.

“We have regular vendors arranged for essential commodities like vegetables and fruits, who come inside the apartment complex on a weekly basis. We have a WhatsApp group of residents created by RWA and we get daily messages, any changes in rules, and announcements on vendor arrivals. BBMP (Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike) war room reports are published daily along with the list of BBMP wards which have containment zones. Our RWA assists residents who are senior citizens who need help in various things,” Gopinathan said.

So what can resident welfare associations do to maintain the fine line between arbitrary rules and precautions?

“I think most resident welfare associations are a little wary because many of the tenants are from outside Karnataka, and are frequent travellers. We have imposed restrictions but we have been communicating with residents and we offer all help required to those who need it. Though we have put some measures which may border on paranoia, we do not force residents. Moreover, the measures are rational, and are properly communicated to the residents. Most of the residents willingly cooperate and I thank them for their support,” said Sarang Gadgil, President of the Celestial Greens Apartment Owners Welfare Association in Bengaluru.

(*Names changed to protect identity)

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