Testing Times | The Indian Express

Written by Leher Kala

Updated: April 14, 2020 4:57:30 pm

The number, 100, launched on March 21 a day before Janata Curfew, received over a staggering nine lakh calls by people dialling either out of boredom to check if it works, or naughty children killing time. (Representational photo)

In a sign of how shockingly unaware Indians continue to be despite the relentless coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic, data from the Telangana Police’s emergency helpline number reveals that of the 12.3 lakh calls received—three out of four were prank calls. The number, 100, launched on March 21 a day before Janata Curfew, received over a staggering nine lakh calls by people dialling either out of boredom to check if it works, or naughty children killing time. According to a report in this newspaper, each silent call takes up at least 40 seconds, sending a genuine cry for help into call waiting, leading to a delayed response. There are 35 precious and overworked police personnel dedicated to this helpline who certainly don’t deserve this appalling hindrance right now. Despite these brainless monsters who seem hell-bent on making a terrible situation worse, people manning this Telangana helpline have heroically addressed the real problems of 2,66,550 people.

The mind boggles, that in the midst of this disaster somebody can even think on the lines of a practical joke like a crank call. These past weeks we have been inundated with footage of alarming death tolls and horrifying images of how countries are running out of place to bury the dead. Daily life has come to a standstill all over the world. Even the most illiterate human being in a remote, far-flung outpost of India cannot claim to not understand the challenge that lies ahead. Between the news cycle, WhatsApp and Facebook, the message has travelled far and wide that if you don’t stay home, you risk your life because the state doesn’t have the resources to cope with thousands of ill people. What then explains this utter lack of compassion for those tasked with a horrendous amount of work during the pandemic, people who don’t have the luxury of socially distancing and who are risking their lives to answer a helpline?

It is, most probably, not malicious intent but willful ignorance, when someone acts in a way that could lead to the death of others. Human beings have an infinite capacity for self-delusion and despite all the information out there, haven’t fully grasped the seriousness of Covid-19. Videos emerging from Italy and Ghana suggest people are the same everywhere. It may be crank calls here, it’s morning walks and beach runs there, in complete defiance of the urgent, worldwide call to stay home. Unless the state comes down hard on hoax callers, as they did on drunk drivers, there will never be a course correction. It is one of the perversities of mankind that while the threat of capital punishment does not deter heinous crime but the fear of a really hefty fine, works wonders. For example, it’s been over six months since the new Motor Vehicles Act, when a manifold increase in penalties for traffic violations has been strictly enforced. Chandigarh and UP have seen a 12-14 per cent reduction in traffic accidents after the fine for drunk driving was changed from Rs 2000 to Rs 10,000. A similar, zero-tolerance policy towards the menace of hoax callers will certainly produce results. Apps like True Caller make it very easy to trace these moronic jokers.

Meanwhile, nobody could have imagined a day would come when we’d be asked to do something so bizarre: to sit tight, quietly, alone. If we are lucky enough to avoid this illness, the frustration and uncertainty the last couple of months have wrought will be remembered as an unpleasant experience, nothing more. For right now though, the least a citizen can do is desist from narrow self-interest because it’s not about you. It’s about getting out of the way of those professionals and appreciating their unenviable task — of looking for solutions in such dire circumstances.

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