Authorities must take strong note of various residents welfare associations (RWAs) that are becoming a law unto themselves since the coronavirus outbreak. A Gurgaon apartment RWA has demanded that employers furnish Covid-19 negative certificates before domestic helps are allowed to work. India is not in a position to do such frivolous testing; moreover, the official focus of testing is on symptomatic individuals and primary contacts of positive patients. Such testing of non-risk groups could delay testing for those who need it more.
Many such instances have come to light where RWAs frame regulations which make even the stringent terms of the lockdown pale in comparison. Yesterday, a case was filed against a Greater Noida RWA official for harassment of Chinese employees of cellphone major Oppo. Across India many RWAs have been accused of violating official norms on distribution of newspapers, entry of support staff and even stigmatisation of essential service personnel like doctors and nurses who are at the frontlines of the Covid-19 fight. With cases increasing, such siege mentalities could sharpen despite the lockdown easing.
These actions betray autocratic tendencies but also fear psychosis and paternalistic mores. RWAs claim to be leaders of housing societies but they could be hindering the fight against Covid-19 by setting bad examples of coercion, stigma and ignorance. Instead of hunting for coronavirus among the usual suspects like maids or various groups of minorities, it could educate people on wearing masks and even distribute them freely, which will go a long way to keeping everyone safer.
If it is the fear of sealing, government has said 1-2 positive cases don’t mandate the sealing of an entire office building. Housing societies can also expect similar treatment. The country is in an economic crisis, the scale of which only a newspaper can perhaps convey while disabusing readers of fake news. But this essential service is denied to many people by overbearing RWAs. Resumption of economic activities with social distancing norms has become imperative for survival of all classes of society. RWA leaders, who are often society elders, must take the lead in this effort.