Covid-19 and Stigma attached to it
May 31, 2020
June 4, 2020

COVID 19 Lockdown overshadowing human rights

A Pandemic is fast evolving, becoming a human rights crisis. The foremost priority for the government has been to contain the virus and curb the graph. However, on the way, the people most noxiously impacted are those who were marginalised and for whom social distancing is a myth. India is a State Party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (“ICESCR”), which recognises the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health”. However, the right to health is not absolutely guaranteed, as it is been expounded further in Article 4 ICESCR. The pandemic is providing the government with a pretext to undermine democratic institutions, quash legitimate dissent or disfavoured people or groups. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (“ICCPR”), of which India is also a member state, offers protection of such rights. It only allows a derogation from obligations being bestowed to the state only in case of national emergency under Article 4.1. However, it is conditional: Firstly, the situation of the state must amount to a public emergency that threatens the life of the state, and secondly, the nation must have proclaimed the state of emergency. Under the absence of such proclamation, all of the obligations under the ICCPR continue to apply. The state is hereby bounded to protect not just human rights because they are non-derogatory in nature, but also because they form an integral part of the right to health. The coercive measures may be justified in certain situations, but excessive force risks backfiring in devastating ways some forces where used to annihilate the voices, who have wished to go back to their home state.
India is currently under the largest unprecedented and uncertain lockdown in the world, with over 1.3 billion people locked inside. In a bid to flatten the growth curve, the Indian government seems to have disregarded basic human rights of millions of immigrants, as an opportunity cost of saving the population from the widespread disease. The 5- Bench judge bench had given a decision that living on pavements and in slums in the city of Bombay is their right to livelihood. The court held that the right to livelihood is a right to life aligning art. 21, with “mandatory” lockdowns violating livelihood of millions. The right to seek and receive information is entrusted and protected by Article 19 ICCPR; the CESCR considers it an important aspect of the right to health, and providing “access to information concerning the main health problems in the community, including methods of preventing and controlling them” is understood as a core obligation of the state and with, a mere 4-hour so-called notice before the implementation of an indefinite countrywide lockdown goes against the soul and spirit of this right as it left the immigrants labours of the unorganised sector, clueless and unprepared to take care of themselves for the coming months. Article 12.1 of the ICCPR protects the people of the member state, “right to liberty of movement” within the territory of a State. This right can only be restricted on exceptional grounds, these restrictions must be necessary and non-arbitrary, provided by law, and consistent with the other obligations of the Covenant.  Since the nationwide lockdown, stories on the plight of migrant daily wage-earners have flooded the internet. With non-essential business and all public transport services shutting down, and thus daily wage earner lost all their prospects of income, the daily wage earners found themselves with only one indubitable option – walk hundreds of kilometres back to their home village. The stress to survive the lockdown overshadowed the stress to survive the disease. More than 383 of daily wage workers have reportedly died due to this lockdown.
The social protection has been a subject of ignorance as everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection. Long-standing inequalities and unequal underlying determinants of health are leaving particular individuals, as immigrants and groups disproportionately affected by the lockdown. Even, The UN supports the time limits some member states have imposed on special emergency powers and periods of review, but have also asked to align with human rights law. Health care workers across the world have been battling and being the frontline warriors – in India, without protective equipment. Article 12.2(c) of the ICESCR requires states to take steps for the prevention of occupational diseases. This requires health workers to be provided with proper health information and most importantly with suitable protective clothing and equipment. The Government did very little to ensure the protection of health workers with their poor and inefficient procurement policies, delaying in framing guidelines for the manufacture of PPE. With the guidelines coming in with the imposition of the lockdown, supply-side constraint led to be a herculean task for the government.  Latest news reports show that over 548 doctors have been tested positive for Covid-19. Thousands of lives were kept staggering and the human rights were side-lined, since the inception of nationwide lockdown. Migrant labours were exasperated economically and socially. The unorganised sector has demurred, the economic downturn is being globally witnessed and expectations are relatively high on the job unemployment rate. In particular, giving just a 4-hour so-called notice before shutting down the entire nation is incompatible with these obligations and derogatory in nature. A segment of the population will not be affected to the novel coronavirus but prospectus is high on dying because of starving. Even though providing safety to one-sixth of the world’s population is a mammoth task, the lockdown would have been better implemented with high effectiveness and efficiency, it would have even done in a phased manner to allow individuals to plan, prepare, and make informed decisions. Although a large population of India lives a day-to-day life, a phased lockdown would have provided them with the ability to at least reach their villages safely instead of either covering hundreds of kilometres on foot or fearing for their lives in shelter homes with lack basic facilities.





Kumar Aditya is a 2nd-year law student at JEMTEC School of Law, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University.




In Content Picture Credit: Financial Times

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