Mumbai, India — Volunteer social worker Ashok Kurmi is helping an army of young fans fight the coronavirus in Mumbai’s slums using an unusual accessory: a clown costume.
Dressed in a bright red clown suit, complete with face paint and a rainbow-hued wig, the 37-year-old executive spends his days off disinfecting public spaces, distributing face masks, and spreading awareness about COVID-19.
“The municipal workers wear PPE kits that scare slum dwellers, particularly children,” Kurmi told AFP.
“With the help of different costumes, I can spread awareness without scaring people. I am able to help them a little.”
Over the past year he has dressed up as Santa Claus, Mickey Mouse, Doraemon and Marvel superhero Spiderman. But his clown get-up is the most popular by far, he said.
On a recent visit to India’s largest slum Dharavi, groups of children followed him, chanting “joker, joker” and offering their hands to be sanitized.
With the help of visual aids and posters, Kurmi patiently showed them how to wash their hands and wear face masks correctly.
“I have worked at a pharmaceutical company for the last 15 years but social work is my passion,” he said.
He spends around 15,000 rupees ($205) — a third of his monthly salary — on buying costumes, make-up supplies and sanitation equipment.
As Mumbai prepares for a third coronavirus wave, his efforts have become even more important.
The pandemic has devastated India, infecting over 28 million people and killing more than 300,000.
Despite the risks involved in visiting densely populated areas like Dharavi, Kurmi is undeterred.
“Until this pandemic ends, I will continue to go and help people as a clown,” he said.