Real Heroes of Coronavirus: Watching thousands defying lockdown was scary: mid-day photographer Pradeep Dhivar

Updated: May 27, 2020, 12:58 IST | Sunny Rodricks | Mumbai

mid-day photographer Pradeep Dhivar talks about the dangers of shooting pictures of unruly crowd during the pandemic in the fourth episode of 'Real heroes of coronavirus'

mid-day photographer Pradeep Dhivar talks about his experience of covering the first migrant train leaving Mumbai
mid-day photographer Pradeep Dhivar talks about his experience of covering the first migrant train leaving Mumbai

Corona heroes

Mid-day online journalists interact with frontline workers in a new series 'Real heroes of coronavirus'. Media photographers, reporters, railway staff and medical workers tell their stories of grit, determination and every-day challenges in times of the pandemic.

When the government announced special trains for migrant labourers, Mid-day senior photographer Pradeep Dhivar and his colleagues reached Bhiwandi station and shot striking images of the migrant labourers setting off to their native destinations in the first train to leave Maharashtra post the lockdown resumption. 

Pradeep-Covid
mid-day photograoher taking the COVID-19 test after fellow journalists tested positive in Mumbai

In a free-wheeling chat with mid-day online, Pradeep Dhivar talks about the challenges faced by news photographers and his experience of working during the pandemic 

Here's an excerpt from the interview.

Has the global pandemic impacted your work?

It is business as usual for us! At a time when the lockdown is in place, we are still going out to shoot exclusive pictures for the publication. On May 2 evening, we got news that the first train with migrant workers was leaving from Bhiwandi station. I immediately got my gear and set out for Bhwandi with my colleagues, Suresh Karkera and Atul Kamble to get pictures. I wanted to capture the emotions of the migrant workers and also check the arrangements made by the railways and the state amid the lockdown. 

Can you describe the experience when you reached Bhiwandi to shoot the first train with migrants set to leave Mumbai?

The train scheduled to leave at 10 pm, got delayed and left Bhiwandi station at around 2 am. The state government took a lot of precautions before giving the green signal for the departure. The migrants were grouped in a batch of 20 with one person designated as a group leader. The groups of 20 people were brought to Bhiwandi station in different buses, to ensure social distancing norms  were followed.

At Bhiwandi station, the passengers underwent temperature checks, their documents examined before they were allowed to board the train. Everything was done in an orderly manner. The migrant workers also obliged as they realised that the government officials were following the guidelines for their own safety and well-being. The passengers were also offered food packets, bottle of water, face mask, and hand sanitisers before they boarded the train. 

Central forces have been deployed in Mumbai to assist the local police, what's your take on it?

The CISF troops should have arrived a lot earlier in the city because the Mumbai Police was under a lot of stress and over burdened due to the COVID-19 crisis. The police force need rest and the arrival of the Central forces will ease the pressure off their shoulders. I feel the morale of the cops in the city has taken a hit after several cops tested positive for COVID-19.

What precautions do you undertake while going out for work?

Being a photographer, I take a lot of precautions before stepping out of my house. A face mask, hand gloves and a sanitiser are mandatory to carry when I am out. Since the last two months while covering the pandemic, I have been avoiding crowded places and make an effort to not touch anything when I am out on the field. 

Even while clicking pictures, I follow fixed protocols such as sanitising my camera , parking my motorcycle at a safe place and sanitising the bike after reaching home. While travelling I do not take pillion riders and maintain social distancing whenever possible.

Pardeep-Bandra-Migrants
This picture clicked by mid-day photographer Pradeep Dhivar during the Bandra crowd incident went viral

During the COVID-19 coverage which has been your scariest moment?

When thousands of migrants thronged Bandra station on the West side on April 14 demanding to be sent back home, I was at the spot covering the incident. It was one of the scariest moment, watching thousands defying lockdown and violating social distancing norms. Before this incident, I had not seen more than five people in a group since the nationwide lockdown was announced by PM Narendra Modi. The visuals of that incident are still fresh in my mind, the look of desperation in the workers, how badly they wanted to go back to their villages as social distancing went for a toss.

Looking at some of the younger lot in the crowd that day, I was reminded of my son who was stuck in Delhi. He wanted to come back home but I told him that he would be safe in Delhi and urged him to stay there. It was difficult for me to tell my own son to not come back home but I believe it was the correct decision. 

From the innumerable pictures you have clicked during the virus outbreak, which has been your best one?

A particular photo that I clicked during the crowd incident at Bandra station stands out for me. It was a picture of a patient sleeping on the bridge with thousands of migrants in the backdrop, it is the best picture that I have clicked so far during the global pandemic. The picture went viral when I shared on social media and lot of people heaped praises on me. Some even asked me about the whereabouts of the patient as they wanted to help him. After a few days I went back to the same place again to locate the person but unfortunately he wasn't there.

Any touching moment you would like to share with us?

While covering the pandemic in one of the slums, I came across a medical official who was conducting door to door swab tests. I clicked a picture when he was wearing his PPE kit. The picture said it all - a health worker getting ready to serve the people with the idol of the god in the background and I said to myself, "Here, even he is a god!" referring to the health worker. It was indeed a touching moment for me.

How is your department and the organisation supporting you?

We have been getting a lot of support from the organisation. My boss Ashish Rane calls me twice a day to inquire about my whereabouts. He also tells each one of us to stay safe and has been providing moral support since day one of the global pandemic. There is no added pressure of work on us.

Pradeep-Tea
Mumbai Police personnel offers tea to mid-day photographer Pradeep Dhivar as he covers COVID-19 cases in the city

What is your message to the general public?

We don't have the option to work from home as it is our job requirement to go out and look for stories. But those who have the option to work from home should follow social distancing rules, I would urge them to stay home as much as possible especially when the cases in Mumbai are on the rise.

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