We ask Sunchika Pandey, who runs HAT Media, an agency that handles social media for the city's police department and the BMC. It's been a crazy few months, no doubt.
“What sticker should I use in order to go out and meet my girlfriend? I miss her,” tweeted Ashwin Vinod to Mumbai Police (@MumbaiPolice) in the middle of April 2021, when the city suffered under the second COVID wave.
Well, Mumbai Police did respond to Vinod’s tweet, and in such a manner that it grabbed headlines across media portals.
“That’s why creative people are brought into the team because now, the police department and the municipal corporation want to hold people’s attention more than ever before,” says Sunchika Pandey.
She runs HAT Media, an agency that manages the social media accounts of Mumbai, Thane and Pune Police departments, and also the BMC, Mumbai’s municipal corporation. Read her detailed profile we carried last year in October here.
Pandey talks about the bizarre things people do. She recalls how a police constable shocked, after reading Vinod’s message, said to her on the common WhatsApp group, “Madam, look at what he’s asking…” Pandey’s name across the force is `Twitter madam’.
She tells afaqs! that people post such messages and questions even during live sessions. “During the live chat of Pune’s police commissioner, weird questions such as, `I can’t meet and convince that girl, can you do something?’ were being asked.”
If that’s not enough, Pandey recalls another weird message Mumbai Police received. A guy claimed that he needed to step out due to a medical emergency. Turns out that he just wanted to buy a bandage.
While these sound like amusing incidents, all of them happened in the last few months when the second COVID wave hit India. To keep a light yet sensitive tone while responding to various messages isn’t an easy task, especially during these times. One wrong move and you will end up facing the wrath of netizens, who’re already under deep emotional turmoil.
Twitter in the past couple of months has transformed from a mere social media network to a medium for collective angst, a firefighting space for citizens who've stepped up to help friends and strangers in need, and a go-to portal for everything Covid-19 from ICU beds and oxygen cylinders to essential medical supplies and ambulance contacts, and more.
“The pandemic is in its second year, but we’ve been talking about the same subject for five years every day: road safety, jumping signals, wearing your helmet… how much variety can you expect from Mumbai Police? You can’t say the same thing all the time, that’s the challenge,” remarks Pandey.
Ever since the second COVID wave struck, Pandey and her team, as well as Mumbai Police and the BMC, have been swamped with messages. “There are people from other states who want to come and get vaccinated here. They want to be under quarantine here… It’s practically impossible to address everything, but I can tell you for sure that all of us together are trying our best.”
She talks about how you learn on the job. “I think it’s become like that for the bigger agencies and departments because there are so many unprecedented challenges.”
One such learning was to rapidly pick up suggestions from people, while “keeping everyone updated through their social media handles.”
All feedback goes to the municipal commissioner, police commissioner and the joint commissioner on a daily basis. Pandey and her team have access to them, and send these messages to them directly on their numbers.
Pandey says that there are people who question why Mumbai Police is doing the work of a municipal corporation, i.e., spreading awareness, etc. “Mumbai Police is consistently making people aware of wearing a mask because it’s their responsibility to keep the city safe. Also, the latest villain in the town is a virus that can’t be seen, or traced.”
“Earlier, Mumbai Police would warn you that not wearing a helmet, or a seat belt will cost you your life. It’s the mask now. From jumping signals and jaywalking, it (Mumbai Police) has to monitor people, who are crossing the lines of their own homes,” Pandey adds.
And while Mumbai Police is at it, she remarks, “It’s very astonishing to see the excuses people make to be on the road, and the way they’re still fearlessly taking risks to go out without a reason. It’s bizarre."
Referring to Mumbai Police’s `Tom and Jerry’ post, she says, “We’re calling it a cat and mouse game. Don’t force the police to become the Tom to your Jerry… Stay home. And if you’re coming out, you better come out for a valid reason.”
One benefit of handling the social media accounts of both Mumbai Police and the BMC is the common flow of information. Says Pandey, “One is bringing/framing the rules, and the other enforces it. There is no communication gap as such. We’re aware of the guidelines coming from the BMC, and how Mumbai Police is implementing them.”
She reveals that earlier, there was “a timeline that between this and that time, the updates will go. But these days, those lines are quite blurred because whenever there’s a requirement, people have to be updated… BMC’s Twitter followers have risen significantly in the past one month because they know they’ll get the updates here.”
Before signing off, Pandey talks about a positive incident. Mumbai Police sent a birthday cake to someone, as a reward, and then saw several requests for the same, and it fulfilled all of them. “I told the officer that even I can say, mera birthday hai, I can’t step outside. Then, I will also get a cake,” she joked.
Cover image credit: Pravin Talan