Hey India, Stop Beating Up Delivery Boys. They’re Only Doing Their Jobs


Hey India, Stop Beating Up Delivery Boys. They’re Only Doing Their Jobs

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

As of midnight on March 25, India went into a 21-day lockdown after an address by PM Modi. The topic was the same as Modi’s last address: India’s measures to tackle the outbreak of Covid-19, the novel coronavirus that has rapidly spread worldwide and become a global pandemic.

The prime takeaway from Modi’s speech was that for the next 21 days, that is, until midnight on April 14, citizens are expected to treat every day like a curfew, and refrain from stepping out of their homes except in cases of emergency or dire need. Social distancing is our best tool in fighting the virus, Modi said, and he was not wrong. However, minutes after Modi concluded his address, which began at 8 pm, there was a sudden surge in citizens heading to neighbourhood stores looking to stock up for the lockdown. Ironically, this led to more crowds, precisely the thing that must be avoided to contain the coronavirus. Soon after going off air, the PM had to put out a tweet urging people to respect the lockdown and stay in their homes.

The reason citizens went into panic-buying mode was that even though home deliveries were supposed to be functional during the lockdown, the system ran into many glitches at the ground level, thus preventing delivery executives from getting their goods to their destination. The drama at shops led to heated scenes, like this one from Mumbai.

But if deliveries were allowed, what was stopping the packages from reaching their rightful owners? It turns out, it was a miscommunication between police officials trying to uphold the lockdown measures and government authorities who did not make it clear that delivery executives were allowed on the road.

Those gruesome visuals are evidence that for some of these workers on the frontlines of the fight against the coronavirus, there are risks beyond disease. Meanwhile, in cities across India, founders of e-commerce start-ups expressed alarm at the way their supply chains were being disrupted while trying to provide necessary commodities to citizens.

Prashant Tandon, the founder of medical delivery start-up 1mg, which drops off medicines and healthcare supplies to customers at home, tweeted about how his company’s employees were struggling to execute their duties. He was not alone, as another e-commerce entrepreneur, Saurabh Kumar, the founder of Grofers, also expressed alarm at his company’s warehouse in Faridabad being shut down (it was later reopened).

Big Basket, one of India’s biggest e-commerce home-delivery start-ups was also hamstrung by the hurdles placed in front of their employees by the police.

And the hampering of online deliveries wasn’t confined to one place in India, but rather across the nation.

As it is only the first day of this 21-day lockdown, there is hope that the madness will abate and delivery executives will be allowed to once more go about their job of getting goods to those who need them. Journalist Shiv Aroor echoed the government’s statement that essential services would be readily available to those who had need of them.

Until this confusion over the legitimacy of calling for home delivery online is resolved, Indian citizens will be caught in a weird Catch-22 situation – they are expected to stay indoors on the PM’s orders, but have to step out whenever they need something essential, like food, that would help them stay indoors in the first place.