Covid-19 in India: Maharashtra woman top cop leads pandemic fight

Pune - Dr. Arti Singh is the toast of the public for her exemplary work amid the viral times.

By Nithin Belle

Published: Thu 20 May 2021, 4:53 PM

One of the most formidable challenges that India has been facing since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in mid-March last year has been to convince semi-literate and insular people in smaller towns, especially in worst-hit states such as Maharashtra, to comply with precautionary norms, maintain social distancing, avoid unnecessary exposure, and stay bold in the face of unprecedented adversities.

Dr. Arti Singh, an Indian Police Service (IPS) officer – and now the only woman police commissioner in India (out of a total of 60 across major cities) – has been battling the Covid-19 crisis with remarkable zeal and aplomb.

She is the police chief of Amravati, a bustling city in Maharashtra’s backward Vidarbha region, where the mercury frequently soars above 40 degrees Celsius during peak summer months and the dry heat leads to several deaths as well.

The contagion continues to rage across Amravati, and the district is one of the worst hit in the country.

Working nearly 12 hours daily since the onset of the viral outbreak, Singh is out on the streets risking her life and limb, urging the public to follow the strict norms, advising the hundreds who want to meet her and seek solace, and also motivating the personnel in her force.

Besides being a top-ranking police officer, Singh is also qualified as a medical doctor.

Not surprisingly, many people interact with her, and she advises them on the precautions to be taken and the medicines they have to get. Singh told that during her frequent walks around the city, she often comes across people moving without masks.

“The first thing I do is to give them masks and emphasise the importance of wearing them during the ongoing health care crisis,” she said. “There are many people who cannot even afford to buy the masks. So, we give them protective gear,” she added.

Walking around in the scorching summer days in Amravati can be a tiring and lonesome task, but Singh has got used to the ordeal.

Last year, when the power loom town of Malegaon in Maharashtra, one of the most congested places in the world, with three localities that are home to more than 100,000 people within a radius of one square (sq) kilometre (km), was undergoing a major Covid-19 crisis, Singh, who was the superintendent of police, Nashik rural, moved there and camped for two months.

Located about 250 km north-east of Mumbai, Malegaon has a population of a million-plus, and 80 per cent of them are Muslims, making it one of the few such cities in the western Indian state.

Singh walked through the city for days and nights, interacting with Muslim leaders, encouraging women to follow the Covid-19 related norms, and most importantly motivating the police force. Hundreds from the force were infected, a few had died, and many appeared demotivated.

Singh went to the Covid-19 care centres and motivated the team, assuring them of all help.

Though she is a police commissioner, Singh is accessible to all from officers down to constables and other members of the force. Women in the force meet her frequently and the police chief emphasises the importance of three things: perseverance, hard work, and motivation.

Singh joined the IPS in 2006. Described often as the ‘woman Singham’ (a lion, and also the name of a popular Hindi film featuring a police officer of exemplary courage), Singh has served in the ultra-leftist, Naxalite-infested Gadchiroli district in Maharashtra, overseeing the 2009 parliamentary elections, when nearly a score of cops was killed by the extremists.

Her husband is also a senior police officer – deputy inspector-general (DIG), Amravati – and the couple has two daughters.

For her remarkable work during the Covid-19 crisis, Singh has been praised by many people.

Sharad Pawar, the chief of Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), a regional Indian political outfit and a part of the ruling coalition in his home state of Maharashtra, remarked that when Malegaon was passing through its toughest phase, and when no one was ready to be there for even two minutes, “this lady officer decided to stay there for two months to bring the situation under control”.

Singh has also been featured in a coffee table book brought out by the Director-General of Police (DGP), Maharashtra, covering the exceptional work of a few officers tackling the raging viral outbreak.

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