DANUSKA DA GAMA | NT NETWORK
On May 1, 2020 when the government started processing applications for interstate travel using a private car, I decided to drop a friend who had been stranded in Goa for over 40 days, back home to Mysuru.
After getting an online approval for four persons (one to be dropped), including applying online for a permit in Karnataka, we set out early morning on May 3, 2020 in a hatchback Ignis for the 12-hour long journey.
After getting a clearance at Pollem check-post, the police and authorities at Karwar told us to be careful on the way as the journey wouldn’t be an easy one.
At every district check-post in Karnataka, not only did we have to wait in a queue to make an entry and get documents checked and the thermo test done, but each time they saw me driving with two male co-passengers, they had to either make a statement, or give me ‘looks’.
Hurdle 1: Around midday, I needed a loo. But upon reaching a check-post, my request for wanting to use a washroom was turned down. I had to wait till I reached a petrol pump, some 30 kilometres away. To my surprise the washroom was spotlessly clean.
I then handed over the car to my co-passenger Sameer who wanted to cover up the distance that I hadn’t in the last couple of hours. Of course, around three hours in all had been spent at the various checking points, and thus the 12-hour journey had already stretched to almost 16 hours.
Hurdle 2: Around 9 p.m. when we were about 40 kilometres from our destination in Mysuru, we were stopped again. As the thermo test was done, we saw police beat up some guys and speak rudely in the background. That stop also made me realise that though the drive might have been interesting, it was getting difficult. I began wondering what was going to happen on the return journey, where neither Sameer nor I could speak the local language. I began working out what arrangements could be done so that our 600+ kilometre drive back to Goa would not be as bumpy. In desperation I messaged a top cop in Goa. Through his contact with the commissioner of police at Mysuru we managed to get an interstate emergency travel permit for the two of us to come back. Upon reaching our destination, we were then taken to the KR hospital Mysuru to get checked and managed to get out COVID free.
Sameer and I rested for about five hours and then set off to return back to Goa at 4.30 a.m. We hadn’t taken the Mangaluru route and drove via Shivamoga. However, when I called home, I was told about a cousin studying in Mangaluru who was stranded there ever since the lockdown. Although this meant driving back for over 309 kilometres to fetch her, we decided to give it a try.
Hurdle 3: About 20 kilometres away from the toll naka near Mangaluru, the cousin informed us that she wouldn’t be allowed to leave. But, hoping that I would manage to explain to the cops and health officials about her plight and bring her back to Goa, we continued. However, when we reached, none of the police or health officials seemed to care.
In fact, one of them asked me to call a superintendent, who said things would work out but despite pleading for two hours, it was all in vain and we left, leaving the cousin to go back to her hostel. She still hasn’t managed to reach her home in Moira despite applying for a pass on May 3, 2020.
Hurdle 4: Unhappy, as I had spotted a number of people being let off without passes, we drove on. Calculating the time, we figured that we would reach Pollem check-post not before midnight. But before we could reach, we were stopped by a cop and asked to park our car at the side.
This seemed absurd and slightly fishy as he was not at any check-post. And he didn’t seem to have a sufficient enough reason for stopping us. All confused when we confronted him, he first said, we accidently knocked someone down, to which I asked for proof, He then said his superior was coming. Within minutes a police jeep arrived and the same cop along with other cops hurled abuses at us and asked for our vehicle to be sealed.
Hurdle 5: Speaking in Hindi, I told him that he had no right to either seal the vehicle or get me into the police jeep sans a lady police official and a warrant. Sameer though was dragged into the jeep and had nail marks on his left arm. However, as I didn’t bow out of the fight, they spoke in Kannada and warned us of harassment along the way and left.
Shell shocked, we continued our journey.
Hurdle 6: We were excited that we would reach Porvorim and Saligao by midnight as we approached the Pollem check post. To our dismay, the cops at the Pollem check-post told us that the interstate emergency pass wasn’t valid. When I requested them to call up the office of the IGP in Panaji as a copy was sent there, the PSI there, Arun Dessai passed the buck to the magistrate authorities. We also, by the way, had a valid travel permit from the North Goa Collector, but due to network issues weren’t able to download the same. I asked for hotspot and even requested the police and other officials to access my account with the username and password but they said it was not their problem.
Hurdle 7: I was losing my patience now but explained the entire situation and even handed over the medical check-up details done in the Mysuru hospital. After trying for about 20 minutes, I managed to download the permit and show it to them. After some internal discussion they kept telling us that we will be quarantined in the government facility for 14 days, although it was clearly stated on the permit that on testing, further procedure of 14 days quarantine may be applicable,
Hurdle 8: Since no police escort was available to take us to a quarantine centre from there, we were asked to either return to Mysore or stay put there sans water, food, etc till 7 a.m. when the police returned on duty. Initially, tired out, I sat in the car as I watched a tired and helpless Sameer who had gone off to sleep.
But then I began frantically trying to get in touch with a few politicians who could intervene, but due to the bad connectivity all in vain. Luckily, a message to Sulakshana Sawant, the first lady of Goa, helped us get out of the tough situation that night.
The police car came by; our details were taken, a thermo test was conducted, and everyone there tried to clarify their intentions and statements. Meanwhile the family kept calling and unable to handle the stress anymore, I burst into tears.
Hurdle 9: Everyone seemed clueless about where we were supposed to be taken for testing – Margao Residency, Calangute Residency, Panaji Residency, or Mapusa Residency. We were then asked to follow the police vehicle to Agassaim Police Station.
Hurdle 10: Once there, we had to wait for the next vehicle to escort us to Panaji. A third vehicle took us to Green Park, Guirim; and the fourth finally to Mapusa Residency.
Now, we assumed, like any other ill-informed citizen, that the test would be done immediately and following the results, we would be home quarantined for 14 days. But they insisted that we take a room at the facility. It is important to note here that the lobby area was infested with mosquitoes.
Hurdle 11: I wanted to use the washroom, but was told by the attendants that I would be allowed to use one only if I take a room. I told them that I would rather stay put in my car with the AC on till the test was conducted and results were out. I was threatened that I would be jailed, collector would be called, etc. I decided to drive to the Mapusa police station.
Hurdle 12: On entering the police station, I was directed to a lady cop who told me where the washroom was. But soon there were murmurs that I could be carrying the virus. So there again I was stopped, questioned, and asked not to touch anything in the washroom that the lady cop guarded, that had no lights.
I then went back to Mapusa Residency and was told that a doctor was called. The lady doctor whose name I didn’t ask seemed to be the only person who understood, listened and affirmed my conclusions of how people are being mistreated and misguided. She agreed that the place had mosquitoes, wasn’t clean. She then spoke to the mamlatdar and somehow managed to convince the two of us to rest till the test was done.
Hurdle 13: The room had an unclean toilet, and there was no provision of plate, cup or spoon as mentioned. There was no bedsheet/blanket provided. I had to ask for soap and a mosquito repellent. I also noticed that the air conditioner was functioning but
We woke up for the test and saw several people queued up. Hoping results would be out in two hours we left back for the room and slept.
We ended up spending a good 12 hours there before the test results came out negative. We left for our homes, emotionally battered.
Kudos to the government for being stringent. But as I write this piece, a few days after this trip, I can’t help but feel that if resilient, educated and responsible citizens are put through such trauma, there will be more damage to the well-being and mental health of a person.