Citizens team up with BBMP to get Bengalureans to mask up

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BBMP Special Commissioner Randeep reading the pledge and citizens repeating after him.

Last Saturday, on October 24 at 4 pm, about 30 citizen volunteers gathered at Garuda Mall on McGrath road to participate in the “Mask Up Please” campaign. Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) Special Commissioner Randeep D, BBMP Chief Marshal Colonel Rajdeep Singh and a team of marshals also joined the campaign. 

During the campaign, Randeep D along with all present took a pledge to wear masks to ensure the safety of others. The pledge reads as follows,

I pledge not to leave my house without wearing a mask.
I will be a good citizen and take responsibility to wear the mask properly.
I appeal to each one of you to #MaskUpPlease and #SaveLives.

BBMP Special Commissioner Randeep D leads the pledge and is joined by Program Head of IChangeMyCity Vinod Jacob.

BBMP Commissioner Manjunath Prasad and Deputy Commissioner of Police Isha Pant conveyed their best wishes for the initiative as they were away. They promised to join for future campaigns and extend support.

Jhatkaa.org was a part of this pilot campaign and came forward with their inventory of masks. They handed it over to the team of marshals. It has been decided that these masks would be provided to every unmasked citizen encountered and fined by the marshals. 

Later, the team also visited Garuda Mall and requested the mall manager and shopkeepers to ensure employees and customers are masked all the time. 

The spirit of this campaign is collaboration. We envision citizens volunteering with BBMP marshals to ensure safety through masking and social distancing.

Why are citizens coming forward to raise awareness to wear masks 

We are still in the thick of the pandemic and the time and the availability of a reliable vaccine in the country is unknown. Experts say that a second wave of the pandemic is imminent and are repeatedly advocating the usage of masks and social distancing in public places. 

India continues to be one of the worst-hit countries from this pandemic. According to BBMP, the total COVID positive cases in October alone has crossed 90,000. As per the COVID-19 War Room bulletin on October 29, 95, 521 cases have been recorded with a positivity rate of 8.56%.

Businesses and the economy have taken a severe beating in the country and the government has ramped focus on its revival. With Unlock India initiatives, things are pretty much back to normal especially on the roads of Bengaluru. However, this normalcy is dangerous since people have also started assuming that  pandemic is past us. This false sense of normalcy adds to the problem and poses a great threat to contain the spread of COVID in the city. 

People have started letting their guard down with the opening of public spaces 

Restaurants are open. Parks are open. Theatres are partially open. The borders have opened up and there is an uninterrupted flow of people from other states.

People have started letting their guard down–masks down! People sitting and talking in large groups is a common sight across the city. Ironically, the mood is rather celebratory. The sense of gloom need not persist, but the pandemic does–cases are spiralling, people are dying.  As citizens, we need to understand this. 

More importantly, it is the duty of the government, while they try to revive the economy, to continuously provide people with the correct picture and urge them to mask up, to practice social distancing, and implement strict rules and regulations on ground. 

Dr Andrew Pollard, Professor of Paediatric Infection and Immunity at the University of Oxford, warns that world over people will have to wear masks and practice social distancing until July 2021 and that life will not be back to normal until then. He also warns that strict rules and regulations will need to be followed even if the vaccine tests results prove successful. 

Closer to home, the Karnataka Epidemic Diseases Ordinance 2020 makes non-mask wearing a legal offence. 

So, it is in the right of every citizen to safeguard their own safety by asking the unmasked to mask up. This message is the crux of our “Mask Up Please” campaign.  

Lending a helping hand to marshals 

With our volunteering effort and approach to ask people to mask up, we believe marshals will then have lesser troubles on the ground when they approach defaulters and more importantly they will have lesser people to fine. 

Marshals have been having a tough time on the ground. Many citizens view fining as a money making racket by the government and flout paying fines. There have been several instances where marshals have been attacked, abused and have basically had it rough. 

With not more than one BBMP marshal available per ward  this campaign hopes to bring at least 2-3 citizen volunteers per ward to complement marshalling efforts.

After all, for every marshal the ideal case scenario is when they no longer have to fine people, isn’t it? And here’s what the volunteers have been doing: 

  • The volunteers will spend an hour every day in their respective localities requesting every single unmasked person they encounter to mask up
  • Will do weekly awareness campaigns with the BBMP marshals in crowded public areas such as malls, markets, etc

On these days, it has been decided that the marshals will not fine defaulters. 

Having said that, we feel that targets around fines are not required and we have been raising our voice against the same. However, the reality is that there are many non mask wearers  in the city and the marshals spend 8-9 hours every day trying to regulate this at the risk of their own safety. They can do with some extra cooperation from citizens.  

Divya Narayanan, the Director of Programs for Jhatkaa.org seen handing over masks to East Zone Lead Marshal during the pilot campaign held on October 24.

The volunteers through our campaign are already available at the ward level if they need to be roped in for formal monitoring. 

Taking the message to citizens across the city 

With a growing list of ~100 volunteers across the city, we have been asking citizens to please mask up. We ask them politely yet firmly to mask up. It seems to be working. Out of 10 people whom we request mask up, 9 surely respond with a sorry or thank you and immediately mask up. 

In the coming days, we plan to engage with communities and citizens using art, creative means, social media, and with help from well-known citizens. We hope to create and soon see a ripple effect across the city where citizens will take the lead to mask up and follow social distancing rules. We plan to use the help of all the Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs) in the city to scale the efforts of this initiative. 

We also continue to work with the civic agencies in parallel to push these initiatives by recommending closure of public places such as parks and other places which don’t have a direct impact on the economy.    

With the frequent push from citizen groups and the honourable High Court taking cognizance of the issue, the BBMP has set up a mask and social distancing committees at BBMP head quarters, zonal, divisional and ward levels and a detailed advisory on mask wearing and social distancing has also been issued on October 27.

How can you help

Masking and social distancing are the only two things that could keep the infection at bay until a vaccine arrives. Every Bengalurean needs to see the benefits of staying masked and stand up for their own safety and the community around them.   

Join us: The second “Mask Up Please” campaign is at Commercial Street. We will be joined by BBMP Joint Commissioner Sarfaraz Khan and a team of marshals accompanied by Colonel Rajbir Singh. All are welcome to join.

Date: October 31, Saturday
Time: 4 pm
Place: Commercial Street

We urge more citizens to come forward to join us and volunteer with us. The citizen volunteers can be a part of this city-wide campaign. Click here to join our group and support the initiative. Once you join, we will also help you register with BBMP as a ward-level volunteer

We hope the community benefits from the “Mask Up Please” campaign. As one of  our key campaigners Nandita Subbarao would add, “hopefully ( the “Mask Up Please” campaign) becomes more viral than COVID 19 itself.”  

Here’s a video that captures our pilot campaign held on October 24:

About the “Mask Up Please” Campaign

The campaign is a voluntary initiative of the Public Health Action Team (PACT) in partnership with  IChangeMyCity, Janaagraha and creative partner OntheBuzz

PACT is a public health community initiative led by Multiversal Advisory in partnership with NanoBI, Urban Venture Labs, Elephant Ear Advisors.

[Disclaimer: This article is a citizen contribution. The views expressed here are those of the individual writer(s) and do not reflect the position of Citizen Matters.]

About Harini Raghavan 2 Articles
Harini Raghavan is the co-founder of Multiversal, a leadership advisory firm. Outside work, she is an active citizen and advocates for civic and animal welfare.