Indian police have the unenviable task of enforcing the world’s biggest coronavirus lockdown. But last weekend, they handed down a punishment more common in a middle-school classroom than a police station.
Ten foreign tourists caught flouting India’s coronavirus restrictions Saturday were made to write the phrase “I did not follow the rules of lockdown. I am very sorry” 500 times and submit the paper to police.
The incident happened at a sandy beach along the Ganges River near Rishikesh, a tourist hub in northern India famous for yoga retreats and hippie hangouts. It’s where the Beatles made a spiritual pilgrimage in 1968.
An officer who answered the phone Monday at the Muni Ki Reti police station near Rishikesh confirmed details to NPR, but declined an interview.
The tourists were reportedly from Israel, Mexico, Australia and Austria, and were walking along the river when Indian police intervened. Under India’s lockdown, all nonessential outings are banned.
Video shared online by Israeli media shows a police officer berating the foreigners.
“Corona is going on, man! You should have to follow the rules and regulations of India,” yells an officer in a khaki uniform and surgical mask.
“I’m sorry, sir,” replies a tourist, sitting cross-legged in the sand.
“Today I give you a very short punishment. Otherwise I take you to police station and you get jail! Understand?” the officer says.
It wasn’t an empty threat: Under India’s Disaster Management Act, lockdown violators may face up to a year in prison.
“Write down 500 times: ‘I did not follow the rules of lockdown. I am very sorry,'” the policeman says on video.
Later, the same officer is seen standing over another tourist, hunched over and scribbling.
“How much?” the officer asks.
“Four-hundred eighty-seven,” the tourist replies.
Three weeks ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi instructed all 1.3 billion people in India to stay at home, with a few exceptions for essential work, food shopping and medical visits. The lockdown is set to expire at midnight Tuesday, though some states have already extended local restrictions, including the state of Uttarakhand, home to Rishikesh.
India has confirmed more than 8,000 active cases of COVID-19, and about 325 deaths — but testing is not widespread.
This isn’t the first time in the coronavirus era that Indian police have grabbed headlines for unconventional punishments. Last month in the city of Nagpur, police were filmed forcing those who violated curfews to hold their ears and do exercise squats in the street.