CORONA Prevention through Environmental Design – CPTED in the present times

Day 31 of the ‘National Lockdown’ in India and we are already adapted to a new way of life. What seems so natural now, was daunting just 3 weeks ago as the imminence of the virus hit our sensibilities and we all set out to secure that which has never been secured before ……. ie, the AIR we breath.

Air is abstract, cannot be locked and definitely not secured by the conventional known forms of security using devices or personnel. In fact, personnel can actually endanger the same, as potential carriers of the deadly virus, as they travel from their duty area to their homes, intermixing the airs of both the destinations, negating the purpose of lockdowns.

And yet, there is a system which has developed, organically or even spontaneously in response to this global pandemic. This paper will share some such examples and instances, which will give you a glimpse into our grass-root response to this calamity and how CPTED is at the base of the fight against Corona in India.

So, let’s first list all the odds against us, as we embarked on this journey 31 days ago. India is a developing nation and couldn’t boast of resources anywhere near the ‘Developed’ world which was already reeling with Corona. Further we have a population of 1.3 billion humans, a large segment of which are poor, illiterate and ignorant. A large proportion of these, thrives on daily wages and lives in high density dwellings where the containment of air and social distancing can be as challenging as a journey to Mars and back.

So, 31 days ago, with fingers crossed and eyes shut in prayer, our collective consciousness set out following governmental directives to make sure that we don’t do anything wrong, aware that Indian numbers had the potential to outnumber the rest of the world. The establishment knew that the situation was like a gas leak and even a single ignition could trigger an explosion of the pandemic.

The National government enforced the first leg of ‘National Lockdown’ for an initial 21 days with the slogan ‘Jaan hai to Jahaan hai’. This is very popular saying in Hindi, implying that ‘if there is health, then you have the world’, ie. health must be the first priority for the administration and the people.

The initial lockdown left millions without a means to earn their daily wages, survivalist worries of providing for their families, paying rents and keeping afloat. This forced them by hordes to undertake arduous and impossible journeys back home in the belief that their villages with accessible food cultivation, community support and distance from the infected cities would actually be a better and a more viable option.

These individual decisions, added up to community movements and transformed into a mass exodus from cities back to their rural origins. This created not just an immediate challenge of enforcement of the lockdown but also a spontaneous empathetic resolution of the mass concerns. Solutions were evolved overnight and the situation dispelled amicably, taking the migrants back home but quarantined. The lockdown rules were bent in popular interest, this was critical to the success of the lockdown.

Many of this sect however, complied with the lockdown against all odds and survived the lockdown only to be disappointed by the extension for another 19 days. It is not difficult to understand the government’s compulsions for the phase II of the lockdown, it was difficult to convince those struggling with existential concerns of hunger and shelter without income. That is where the government underscored the gravity of the pandemic with empathy and affirmative action to alleviate the sufferings.

The second phase was enforced with the tagline: ‘Jaan bhi, jahaan bhi’: implying the shift in the administrative orientations to secure the health and the economy too, neither at the cost of the other.

There was unrest, as the patience of many had withered along with their savings and goodwill. And so, the governments are going about empathetically listening and addressing the concerns of almost every section, offering some kind of relief in action or policy to every section of the society. The sporadic unrests are settled mostly, not by a forceful clampdown but the belief and evidence that the establishment is indeed looking for doable solutions to end the strife and is empathetic. This trust of the people is critical to the fight against Covid……

Incident 1

The news coverage and administrative public awareness drive not only educated the literate but was clearly understood by the rurals too. When neighbours in a small village saw too many people, most of them not the usual residents of that house, frequenting the place, they candidly reported that they suspected the inmates of harbouring infected people or carriers.

Whether the action was out of self-serving concerns for one’s own ‘air rights’ or a concern for the collective, swift action by the authorities extracted many holed up Corona positive cases and arrested a potential community spread early.
This shows that when security be the subject the socio-economic level does not matter. Also, that to secure the air we breathe, there is no better strategy than CPTED. While the informant may be considered a tattler by his neighbours, he secured his family and performed what he thought to be his ‘nationalistic duty’.

Incident 2

One of the closely packed dense housing districts of a tier-II city in India, blocked entry to their lanes. This was done by barricading to keep away outsiders to protect all inhabitants therein from contamination of any kind (see Image-1).

A village in the south of India near Chennai has broken the only road that connects it to the highway to restrict and keep out any city people from accessing their village and bringing in infections (see Image-2).

A village in central India has banned entry of outsiders with a penalty of INR 5000 on every such attempt. There are countless such examples from the cities and the villages alike.

Image 1: Makeshift barricading of a high      Image 2: Main entry to village blocked and
Density lane by the resident community       visitors politely to stay out.
(Deol, 2020)                                                         (Telengana today, 2020)

While all these are examples of community access control and territorial reinforcement they are just scaled down versions of the national/global versions where visas are cancelled and entry of foreign nationals closed in the prelude to the national lockdown. At the national level the government wanted to insulate the country against the foreign infection. At their rural level they are doing the same to protect against this ‘urban disease of the rich’ (since those who travelled overseas were the first carriers).

Incident 3
Most urban residents are exercising their territorial rights to monitor, question and control every incursion into their air space (now an individual unit). The declaration of the national lockdown empowered every citizen to question unsolicited visitors into not just their homes but also their communities.

To the extent that many gated communities completely banned entry or incursion or even locked down their housings even prior to the lockdown on the mere suspicion of an infection.There are innumerable such cases where spitting vendors, coughing guards and those flouting distancing and lockdown directions are being reported by the community aiding police efforts.
Further these very communities are organizing ways to look after the lowest socio-economic rung by feeding them, giving them residential accommodation to keep them away from the hotspots and yet continue their duties. These efforts range from individual to community.

While these may be to safeguard their own interests in protecting their household helps and domestic aides, the more organized drives are based on charity, altruistic virtues bordering on the self-actualisation aspects propounded by Maslow. However what is critical here is that many a times such charities are undertaken by or contributed to by not just people of ample means.

Incident 4
Pulling up any stranger in your community for not wearing masks or purposeless loiterers for flouting lockdown norms are all examples of the individual exercising his rights over his air and what he permits into his air. These are however indirect rights empowered by state backing and made possible when the individual knows that the community is backing him.

So each one of us staring out his window or idling in the balcony is a representative of the establishment in enforcing its dictat in our interest. The emphasis here is on OUR INTEREST. Each one doing is convinced that it is his ‘right’ and urgent ‘duty’ for him to secure HIS and his FAMILY’S AIR.

Incident 5

Sadly, everything is not all rosy in response to the pandemic. There have been sporadic and random incidents of some communities treating administrative and health efforts by not just pelting stones at the health workers but even resorting to ‘Corona terror’ in some cases.

There are cases where unscientific beliefs and blind opposition to government efforts have driven people to spit at the representatives quarantining them or trying to identify patients. In such cases, when the whole community unites against the cause and the establishment, in a collective non-compliance of the policies, the results are can be as alarming too.

This is a great example of CPTED used for crime or what is legally a crime but understood by the doer as resistance or dissent, all vital aspects of democracy. When the community leaders’ ideologies are motivated by political or communal misgivings, they can use the same CPTED theories to drive their communities in the other direction.

At such times we find social isolation, administrative use of force and intervention by more influential socio-political leaders is the difficult route ahead. But more importantly, if an individual, group or community disbelieves government efforts or refuses to accept them…… crime happens-individually and collectively?

Incident 6
Lastly the psychological aspects of social distancing and lockdown are being addressed in unique ‘made at home’ ways across the country. The concept was flagged off by the Prime Minister even before the lockdown was announced by asking all citizens to come out in their balconies at an appointed time and make a noise by clapping or any other mode.

This small exercise had immeasurable impact on the psyche of those scared of Corona or the lockdown, was a subtle gesture of solidarity and an emphatic way to dispel loneliness. It created a visual connect between neighbours and the feeling of oneness. Though many urban areas did not witness a turnout of more than 30-40% due to many related reasons which will be discussed further in this paper, the limited response created a positive tempo to introduce the lockdown in.
Image 1: Clapping and sound activity          Image 2: Candle and light activity
(Business Standard, 2020)                              (Author)

The National fervour created by these activities akin to the Nationalistic mood on Independence day or Republic day (National holidays) made for perfect timing and psycho-social setting for the acceptance of a never before emergency-like ‘lockdown’.

Then this experiment was repeated few days into the lockdown but with slightly variant factors and variant results. But the system opened up a myriad of possibilities for communities under lockdown underscoring the relevance of the 2nd generation factors. Many organized games that were played across balconies using loudspeakers and many repeated the clapping sessions everyday as a yogic antidote to fear and seclusion.

Analysis of the Indian CPTED against Corona:
So, these brief glimpses of organic and grassroot responses to the virus induced situations not only highlight the role of CPTED but also other supportive aspects which might lead us to other manifestations of CPTED in India.

Almost all the examples cited above highlight distinct play of the first and second generation CPTED principles, at work to contain the virus in India. However, another very important factor is the empowerment of the individual and the community by the National Lockdown and its enforcement by the local police.

Individual and his Family :The private domain
Starting from the bottom of the ladder (refer figure-1), while an individual exercises all CPTED principles right from keeping an eye on the territory outside one’s control, visitors coming through it and exit of one’s own unit’s insiders, something like a sterile and sanitized unit is created, which is almost sacred. The air that is breathed inside this unit is safe and can be vouched for. To achieve this the individual uses all the 1st generation principles from surveillance, access control to territoriality and maintenance, to make his immediate ‘Air Domain’ safe.

An infection of this sacred unit means infection of all inhabitants, without doubt. When the government started urging people to stay at home, work from home etc., there was discomfort, resistance. But once they changed their public advocacy to – “stay at home for the sake of your family”, suddenly there was order.

This sense of family while pervading almost across the globe and cultures is especially deep rooted in the Indian culture and psyche. This is a very important aspect of CPTED at work in India. You could almost consider it the smallest unit of CPTED action in the Indian context where the family unit supercedes the individual/community in cause and action.

This can also be derived from the highest level of compliance found amongst families and maximum non-compliance of Covid directives by individuals separated from their families, like migrant workers itching to go back to their families.

The semi-private bordering this private domain, can vary depending upon whether it is a bungalow with private gardens, a building of dwelling units per floor, a high rise of apartments or others. The common areas serving 2 or more apartments, the outside gardens and other common facilities like lifts, parking etc. are not this sacred but controllable depending upon how many share the facilities. The more the co-owners the less the control.

Figure 1: CPTED at different levels varying in scales with same underlying principles.(Author)

Neighbourhood and community : Semi-public domain
Depending upon family structures, age groups and degree of social interactions, the community supports each of its individuals in maintaining and securing all semi-public areas that a single individual cannot dictate. So Resident Welfare Associations (RWA) and other such formal/informal structures have played their part right from sealing off early hot spots to restricting movement in affected locations etc.

However, what is most interesting is the self-assumed role of the vigilante, without delegation by anybody but for one’s own vested interest and in spontaneous response to witnessing an act that challenges one’s sensibilities heightened in the current times. This factor is evidenced in many of the incidents reported above.

Individual causal surveillance, collective enforcement of access controls are all manifestations of the territoriality, whether they are empowered by organized community support or not. They have a national and legal virtue attached. This community action is also a function of the individual beliefs, community ideologies and political inclinations, very strongly affecting the prevention of Corona through CPTED principles.

National, State & District Level: Public domain
While the state and national administrations coax and urge its citizens to exercise self control, distancing and stay at home, this research finds that a lot of the decision making and response to governmental efforts are based on many peripheral reasons that influence the individual and community judgments. It is important to note that in the war against Corona, citizen compliance is critical to results.

No amount of policing and use of force can achieve what the populace can achieve once convinced. That is why the administration have been more to educate people about the need for social distancing than the usual coercive means adopted by administrations. The police is also dealing with the people with empathy and understanding instead of the punitive methodology.

The police were seen everyday on the new channels enforcing the lockdown using symbolic punishments like being made to do exercises or other juvenile equivalents. Only yesterday it has been declared a penal offence with possibilities of imprisonment alongwith even more dire action against those attacking the health workers.

As mentioned in incident-6, the response to the PM’s call for community interactions saw a range of fluctuations in turnouts. This depended on the family unit’s political inclinations, scientific rationale, patriotism, nationalism and most importantly religious ideologies. This is relevant because the ruling government is known to be partial to particular religious ideologies. Hence all those opposed, respond by not cooperating or being suspicious of the Government directives.

Infact, this research also finds that the actual enforcement of the government lockdown, sops for the underprivileged, other National policies and the compliance by citizenry from state to state vary based upon the popularity and personal acumen of the State leadership. Leaders elected with thumping majorities are able to evoke better compliance compared to shaky leaders.

These are very critical factors that can work against the purpose when religion based theologies, politically motivated ideologies or just ill-informed leaders spur their communities to resist government action, flout state policies or vice-versa compel populations to blindly follow. While this is an important component of any democracy, it can make enforcement of anti-Covid drives that much tougher. That is the price of democracy.

If you get a majority of people abiding by your dictats in absolute belief, you will have to reconcile to sizeable number questioning your moves till they are convinced (a vital virtue) and a substantial lot of people opposed to the polity. So while the individual parameter of law-abidingness is critical to the CPTED performance against Corona just like any other crime, the democratic popularity of the leaders is an equally vital component.

Lets look at a simple measure like wearing masks. Most of the people started wearing masks for their safety even before the lockdown. Some balance reconciled to the discomfort in the interest of their families and to not carry infections to them. Yet, there were many who despite weeks of lockdown did not sport masks till a government directive declaring it a legal necessity and few still don’t.

They are either convinced that Covid-19 can’t touch them or any such equivalent belief to flout the law. And then there are some who will want to teach such people a lesson or lecture them or punish them etc. So, these individual variants can be based on any of the following new factors identified, that can colour the judgement and performance of CPTED not limited to Corona:
1. National/State level:
a. Nationalism
b. Political inclinations
c. Ideologies- social, economic, scientific.
2. Community level:
a. Socio-economics
b. Educational profiles
c. Religious ideologies
d. Political affiliations
3. Individual:
a. Scientific conviction
b. Sense of Family
c. Individual/Familial attitude to self actualization.
This research will be extended to investigate all or some of these in the Indian and global context for their validity under the 3rd generation of CPTED being researched worldwide in the next few weeks.

Very often the law non-abiders face the indignation of the law-abiders who feel their sacrifices and efforts are being annulled by the other side. This is even more highlighted in these Corona times. But this is a war as old as human civilization. As long as the percentage of law-abiders outnumbers the non-abiders, civilizations will thrive with CPTED in the face of any challenge current or future.