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Tu Jaanta Nahin Mera Mask Kaun Hai

Tu Jaanta Nahin Mera Mask Kaun Hai

As one staff member plaintively said, "It is unfortunate that most of the violations are from upscale localities" yaniki, "tu jaanta nahin mera mask Kaun hai".

Illustration/Uday Mohite
Illustration/Uday Mohite

"Do you think Arnab will come back from jail sobered or wilder?" a friend mused as we discussed the anchor's arrest.

For the answer we need, not to turn to his news channel, but to India's mask fine collection saga. Thus far, the Chennai corporation has collected Rs 3.8 crore, BMC Rs 4.7 crore, and Delhi—to no one's surprise—over R10 crore in fines from people found not wearing masks in public. It also required quite a bit of derring-do from officials.

In just the last week of September, the health department in Delhi reported 160 disputes, yaniki, recalcitrance on being told to mask up and pay the fine, and the staff on COVID-19 duty had to visit the police station 26 times. Defaulters picked quarrels with the enforcement team 77 times in that week and the municipal staff had to call the cops 63 times. As one staff member plaintively said, "It is unfortunate that most of the violations are from upscale localities" yaniki, "tu jaanta nahin mera mask kaun hai".

Six of these times, the staff had to pay the fine from their own pockets because challans had been issued and defaulters defied them (Jai kali bureaucracy wali, tera jeb na jaaye khali).

In Navi Mumbai last week, one man, asked to pay a fine for roaming maskless, first argued with the police, then doused himself with kerosene and threatened immolation yaniki sar jala sakte hain lekin uspe mask laga sakte nahin. In Pimpri Chinchwad, a man driving maskless with a passenger, when apprehended by a traffic constable, tried to drive off, almost running over the constable who had to cling to the car's bonnet for dear life, 'as he was enraged'. Yaniki, tu jaanta nahin hai mera caste kaun hai. Now, he's been booked for attempted murder. By the way, this happened in Ahimsa Chowk.

We all know such people, who will resolutely, vociferously insist they are right, and do so with an expression of aggrieved, aggressive nobility, as if they are the boy on the burning deck of tradition, while all around them are citing Wikipedia, Jstor and KBC research assistants. My uncle would never back down in an argument, no matter what. Later, he would cheerfully admit to this tendency but explain that it was a policy decision because "main manoonga toh haroonga na". No, his name was not Donald.

Just like last week, when the Home Minister wrongly garlanded the statue of a hunter, mistaking it for Birsa Munda, there was an understandable outcry, from the adivasi community. "It is okay," said Dilip Ghosh, West Bengal BJP chief. "To end the controversy, from now on we will consider this statue to be Birsa Munda." We are like this only na? Unrepentant.

When states treat citizens as children, surveilling them and censoring what they watch, and free citizens willingly act like obedient children, upholding norms to be daddy's pet, rather than acting like thoughtful adults, childish defiance drawing on feudal identities seems to be their only expression of agency—a meaningless and toxic one that harms others and eventually them too. Admitting a mistake takes maturity, self-confidence and respect for others.

Which brings us to my friend's question—apparently there's going to be a new news channel in every state, its star anchor announced recently. Yaniki, tu jaanta nahin mera broadcast kaun hai.

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