ATTACK OF CORONAVIRUS ON HUMAN RIGHTS IN INDIA

Introduction

Since the 1929 great depression, the uncertainty we have all faced over the past year is because of covid-19 possibly it is the most disruptive global event as it has affected many parts of one life and has had a significant impact on almost every aspect. It would not be wrong to say that this pandemic is a black swan event, which means it is with a short term impact that is unpredictable but has the consequences long-term. Article 22 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights[1] gives the right to social security to every member, but after the implementation of an emergency, the movement of people was limited for making limitation of spreading of virus and this measure created problems in some way. Lockdown imposed during the covid-19 period shows a different scenario as it has disproportionately harmed marginalized communities because of loss of basic needs such as shelter, medical care, food, education, etc. and no alternatives of jobs. Due to the increase in unemployment, the possibility of exploitation also increased, which is a violation of their right. Thousands of people who are homeless or people who were stepped out of their homes to get essential supplies were ill-treated, publicly shamed, beaten by Police and even named as society’s enemy because of not staying home. Health workers were considered carriers of the viruses and so faced social discrimination and are even threatened by landlords and neighbours. Apart from this, violation of confidentiality of those affected by the virus was seen during covid-19.

Violation of Human Rights During Covid-19 in India

The covid-19 pandemic has induced the implementation of public fitness measures at an unparalleled worldwide scale. Policies such as closures of schools, face masks mandates, household confinement and limiting social gathering were proven to be powerful against transmission of coronavirus and its outcomes. As such interventions were crucial to the mitigation of pandemics, they came at costs of human rights violation as it resulted in the substantial trade-off of public health care services and disruption to education. Viewed through the lens of human rights, the intervention of public health was framed to guard the vulnerable sections of the country but the result is the opposite.

  • Migrant Crisis

As the coronavirus spread across the globe, the government of India imposed ‘Janta Curfew’ a one-day lockdown as the initial response on 22nd March 2020[2].  After that Indian Government declared a complete lockdown till normalcy returned. Four-hour notice of complete lockdown in the country was announced by the Prime Minister. It triggered panic among workers mainly daily labourers as transport lines were closed but hundreds of thousands of workers living in other cities were forced to return to their villages and States. Visuals of migrant workers at New Delhi’s Anand Vihar bus terminal had to wait hours to board the bus to reach their homes. They were surprised to reach the terminal because they were being charged ten times more rent than normal. They were left with no choice but to choose whatever means of transport they could find. Some had no choice but to return barefooted with their family members which included children and senior citizens. With tragic consequences – there had been estimates of a minimum of 2 hundred migrants’ death on the street at the same time as looking to go back home. This scene was similar all over the country. When Members of Parliament asked the facts on process losses and deaths amongst migrants at some stage in lockdown, the representatives of the government replied that they had no available data as they did not preserve reports of this.

The absence of complete data on migrant workers made it difficult to reach out and communicate to them with healthcare facilities, monetary support or food security.  The government simply informed that there were over 10 million domestic migrant workers who returned to their states during the lockdown period. A large number of such workers were from the poorest states, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. People who returned to their villages are still unemployed. Emanating from concerns about family’s health and protection in their places. They are more prone to emotional as well as psychological trauma.

  • Health Crisis

 In a devastating second wave, from 15 April 2021, India reported more than 2 lakh cases daily and on 27th April cases crossed 3lakh bar- globally it was the highest[3]. Hospitals had reportedly turned away infected patients as there was a lack of space. Death was caused due to exhaustion of the supply of oxygen. The Apex Court took suo moto cognizance and called for a report on issues regarding the supply of oxygen and vaccine pricing from the Central Government. India has ratified under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights that everyone has the right to health. It provides that to ensure good health services and to prevent disease government must take an effective step. As per the report, BCG immunization which protects from tuberculosis was not properly done. Around 2 lakhs missed retrovirus immunization[4]. Comprehensive care is health care, with a huge range of essential services for communities living in rural areas. The delivery system of primary health care which targets mental and social wellbeing as well is still in its preliminary tiers. With the pandemic due to this deadly disease, there was the diversion of sources for controlling the pandemic main to the accessibility of healthcare services. The State failed egregiously under the right to health in meeting the core obligations.

  • Education Crisis

Children who were affected by the coronavirus appeared to have lower mortality rates than young and senior age groups. But in myriad different ways, this pandemic had a devastating impact on children, with probably far-reaching and long-time terrible impacts. Students were out of school and had tremendous tasks and earning loss and financial insecurities likely to increase practices like child labour or, sexual exploitations, etc. Article 21A of the Indian Constitution provides for a fundamental right to education “the State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of six to fourteen years in such manner as the State may, by law, determine.[5] With the increase of global death tolls, huge numbers of kids were orphaned and at risk of abuse and exploitation. Many children who were out of school during a pandemic hoped that they would be able to go back when normalcy come but the effect is not over yet. It is unsure if they will return to school in future. The Covid-19 pandemic has made virtual studying an integral part. However, the spread of virtual education had been hampered between haves and have-nots. Especially rural areas had been affected by this sudden change in learning patterns.

A large part of the population in the country has little or even today there is no access to the internet. This is the biggest cause that hindered education in rural India. As the social gathering was restricted so it cut off children in rural areas from education. In case we accept that some areas are blessed with internet facilities then not most of the families living in rural India could afford digital devices for online education. As per the survey, 84% of teachers faced issues in digital education due to a lack of IT support or technological changes. A temporarily innovative method was used by teachers and students but to offer a permanent solution, creating a learning environment should have been imperative while following protocols.

Conclusion

India has faced such an unprecedented crisis, there was no other way to tackle the situation. But it is high time the country needs better coordination between the centre and state governments. The State must act reasonably without infringing human rights. They must ensure that human rights crises should not exist due to health crises. As it is said that tough times teach great lessons and so this pandemic has also taught a lot to the whole Nation. The Government of India needs to learn from the mistakes made during the first and second waves of the pandemic. When this pandemic will be completely over, it will be important that lessons should be learned from it, so that a better future can be discovered without violating fundamental rights. Because fundamental rights need to be protected during pandemics and beyond.

Author(s) Name: Soumya Jha (Sharda University, Greater Noida)

References:

[1] Universal Declaration of Human Rights, art 22

[2] Social Science & Humanities Open, ‘Migrant workers and human rights: A critical study on India’s Covid-19 lockdown policy’ (Vol 3, Issue 1, 2021, 100130)

[3] ‘Indian Government fails to protect right to life and health in second wave of covid-19 pandemic’ (International Commission of Jurists, 29 April 2021) <icj.org/indian-government-fails-to-protect-right-to-life-and-health-in-second-wave-of-covid-19-pandemic/> accessed 21 February 2022

[4] Abanti Bose, ‘The ups and down of human rights with respect to the pandemic in the background’ (iPleaders, 1 June 2021) <https://blog.ipleaders.in/ups-downs-human-rights-respect-pandemic-background/> accessed 2 February 2022

[5] Constitution of India, 1950, art 21A