A senior officer in the Andhra Pradesh tourism department — who brutally assaulted a physically challenged woman staffer for asking him to wear a mask — must receive exemplary punishment under all applicable penal laws. Reports and the viral video in circulation indicate that C Bhaskar was incensed that CH Usha Rani, a contract worker, had the “temerity” to ask him to wear a mask in accordance with office protocols. This is the dilemma that lakhs of ordinary Indians are grappling with in appealing to the good sense of fellow citizens.
Shopkeepers worry they will upset customers if they counsel mask-wearing, workers harbour the same fears about co-workers, and so do neighbours coming across violators in their localities. The long hand of the authorities empowered to levy fines cannot reach everywhere in this situation. The mask is our best protection in public, without having to resort to costly lockdowns or succumbing to fear psychosis. Yet millions of people continue to eschew this temporary inconvenience, prompting Prime Minister Narendra Modi to warn about creeping negligence.
Those wearing masks would have already contributed their mite to significantly breaking the chain of transmissions by reducing the viral load they emit or ingest. Without masks, it is anyone’s guess how many more lakhs would have contracted the coronavirus by now. Bhaskar in Andhra Pradesh is a fit case for the majesty of law to convey a salutary message to the rest of society. He is in violation of laws ranging from the Epidemic Diseases Act, Indian Penal Code provisions on assault and violence against women, Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, service rules, etc. A fast-track court hearing the matter and dispensing quick justice will send a strong message to both those not wearing masks and indulging in violence against fellow citizens.