COVID-19: ‘Thikri pehra’ makes a comeback in Punjab, Haryana

Locals take turns to guard entry and exit points in at least 12,800 Punjab villages

By Seema Sharma
Published: Thursday 30 April 2020
Locals take turns to guard entry and exit points in at least 12,800 Punjab villages. Photo: Seema Sharma

Indian states Punjab and Haryana have resorted to the age-old practice of thikri pehra — community policing — to curb the movement of people in and out of villages in the wake of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown.

The tradition made a comeback after more than two decades — communities guarded their villages in the aftermath of terrorist movement and when the infamous Kala Kachcha gang gave locals sleepless nights years ago.

Movement for urgent business or supply of essential items are allowed under the practice. Local people take turns to guard the entry and exit points in these villages.

The state recorded at least 357 infections positive for SARS-CoV-2 and 19 deaths, as on April 30, 2020.

Around 12,800 villages of Punjab have been observing the diktat since March 31, when Punjab Police Director-General Dinkar Gupta directed all senior superintendents of police officials to ensure strict compliance of thikri pehra.

“The police alone cannot guard all 12,800 villages. While some villages were already keeping vigil on commuters, the government took a cue from the tradition and implemented it in one go across other villages,” said Gupta.

The 25 villages of Mansa district took the first initiative.

“Self-help groups and village committees headed by sarpanch of 25 villages decided to seal their villages to prevent any possibility of spread in the beginning of March. Police, too, deputed additional force of 326 village police officers to help people,” said Mansa SSP Narinder Bhargav.

Interestingly, some Punjabi singers who had gone back home are contributing to thikri pehra in their own way. Singer Sidhu Moose Wala made it clear that no one would be allowed to move in and out of his village Moosa, unless there was some urgent work.

R Nait, another Punjabi singer who belongs to Dharampura village, also participated in the practice.

“A team of four persons each guard the street from 8 am to 2 pm. Another team does the same from 2 to 10 pm. The strength is half at night,” said Mohinder Singh, a Mansa resident.

A few reports of clashes with those trying to defy the restriction trickled in . For instance, three people in Muktsar were allegedly thrashed by men on guard for not being able to give any plausible reason for seeking entry.

Rajbachan Singh Sandhu, SSP, Muktsar said a system of committees formed in all villages and municipal corporation wards have been evolved to screen people coming from outside.

In Haryana, the Jhajjar-Rohtak-Sonepat belt has had a long association with the thikri pehra.

The Jhajjar district has not reported a single COVID-19 case so far. The state has reported 310 cases and three deaths, as on April 30, 2020.

Deputy commissioner Jitender Kumar said thikri pehra is practised in Jhajjar, Rohtak and Sonepat in times of natural calamities and crimes.

It is a committee comprising the sarpanch and three revered elderly fellows who depute youngsters on duty, said Jagbeer Singh, sarpanch of Jhajjar’s Jakhoda village.

He said legal action is taken against those who flout the rules.

Police action is taken against violators on the complaint of gram pradhan/sarpanch, according to Ramphal Singh, deputy block development officer. However, no such instance had come to light so far, he said.

Besides thikri pehra, some other stringent measures are being taken by the district administration to regulate sale of essential items, movement of vendors and brick kiln workers.

“Some 1,600 vendors were identified and divided into 306 clusters. Each cluster was given one pass and a vehicle. It became easy for us to monitor them that way,” said Jitender Kumar.

He added that brick kiln associations were directed to restrict the movement of their 6,500 workers. The factory owners were issued same directives with regard to 75,000 labourers.

Around 1,200 migrant workers were provided shelter in over 24 shelter homes in Jhajjar, Beri, Bahadurgarh and Badli pockets in Jhajjar districts.

As transport and a few industries resumed operations from April 20, the administrative machinery equipped 24 nakas with thermal scanning gadgets.            

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