- Shrangika Jaju
Graduate, Lloyd Law College
COVID-19 has given rise to an unprecedented crisis across the globe. It has brought the attention of countries to the importance of balancing the different forces of nature to save the human life. But it has undermined the other basic human rights to a large extent. Vulnerability to human rights has always been the concern of humanity as a whole and community at large. This has further been exposed during COVID-19.
Keeping in mind the prime object to combat the virus, India probably imposed the strictest lockdown in the world in the early phases. This was felt necessary to break the chain of virus and to prepare the required infrastructure. However it has resulted in violations of human rights as well.
Right to Livelihood which is the most basic right was severely affected. According to ILO-ADB Report titled “Tackling the Covid 19 youth employment crisis in Asia and the Pacific”, almost 4.1 million youth lost their jobs in India till August, 2020. (1) Construction and farm workers accounts for majority of job losses. According to World Bank Group President David Malpass, “the pandemic and global recession may cause over 1.4% of the world’s population to fall into extreme poverty.”
The plight of migrant workers has not been hidden from anyone. Loss of livelihood and insecurity of food has forced them to walk thousands of miles with no transportation. According to a survey, 11,159 workers of various states, about 90% of the migrant workers did not receive a ration from the government and were denied payment by their employers. (2) The pain was too frightening that when there was apprehension of imposition of lockdown in the second wave, workers started to migrate immediately. This has not only exposed them to the risk of contacting the virus but also the carrier for the same.
The right to health and medical facility appeared to be on paper only. The surge in cases particularly in second wave has shown the unforgettable painful crises. In the starting phase, it was just limited to hospital beds and has now stretched to ventilators, oxygen cylinder, medicines and even doctors and healthcare workers. Nothing can be more disturbing that the news of persons dying due to health infrastructure, loopholes and the non-availability of oxygen cylinders. In Karnataka, 23 patients died due to non-availability of oxygen facility at Chamarajnagar district. (3) 12 people died at Batra Hospital in Delhi due to shortage of oxygen. (4) Patients have to wait outside hospitals for the treatment due to non-availability of beds. The situation alarmed the courts to the extent that Allahabad High Court has observed that death due to the shortage of oxygen is nothing but genocide. (5)
The pandemic has also degraded the rights and position of women. The incidents of domestic violence have increased to the extent that it was highest in the last ten years. (6) Many of cases remain unreported due to lockdown. ILO report further highlights that women were amongst the one who were worst affected during pandemic. The loss of jobs amongst women is high as compared to men.
The Right to education was also affected as schools remained closed for the long time even after lockdown. It may not have impacted private institutes as compared to government schools as the latter did not provided online education during closing of schools. According to UNICEF Report, the access of internet amongst Indian households was just 24% because of large urban-rural and gender divide. The impact was more on poor and children from marginalised communities such as Dalits, tribal etc. as they were put at greater risk of dropping out and being pushed into child labour and early marriage. Education amongst girls was again more affected.
COVID-19 crisis has further contributed to the problem of malnutrition particularly amongst poor and disadvantaged groups of children. Government Schools and Aganwadi centres which are the sources of food and nutrition were also stopped during pandemic.
Though government has taken many steps and initiatives to counter the effect of COVID-19 upon human rights. Awareness campaign against COVID-19 was also started on a large scale. It took less than a year for India to become self-reliant for manufacturing the medical devices, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and ventilators following the COVID-19 outbreak. Isolation wards were also established at large scale. Aatmnirbhar Bharat Abhiyan was launched to support Indian economy and to protect the livelihood of people. PMCARES Fund was also established to raise the funds of the Government to fight against COVID-19 crisis. Many private organisations, NGOs, and other individuals also played a very active part. Government has even reversed its 14 year old Disaster Aid Policy and accepted foreign aid to deal with the requirement oxygen cylinders. India also rolled out world largest vaccination drive on 16th January, 2021 and advised people for the vaccination.
However the current surge in cases and troubles being faced by people has proved that it was not suffice at all. Further, health experts have warned that the third wave of COVID-19 in India is inevitable. The experience of effect of first and the second wave upon the human rights of people has proved that advance steps from the side of Government to counter its effects are sine qua non.
 Asian Development Bank & The International Labour Organization, Tackling the COVID-19 youth employment crisis in Asia and the Pacific, INTERNATIONAL LABOUR ORGANIZATION (2020), https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---asia/---ro-bangkok/documents/publication/wcms_753369.pdf .
 The Hindu Data Team, Data | 96% migrant workers did not get rations from the government, 90% did not receive wages during lockdown: survey, THE HINDU, April 20, 2021, https://www.thehindu.com/data/data-96-migrant-workers-did-not-get-rations-from-the-government-90-did-not-receive-wages-during-lockdown-survey/article31384413.ece.
 Darshan Devaiah BP, Karnataka: 23 die as Covid-19 facility in Chamarajnagar runs out of oxygen, THE INDIAN EXPRESS, May 04, 2021, https://indianexpress.com/article/india/karnataka-23-dead-in-chamarajanagar-district-hospital-due-to-oxygen-shortage-7300205/.
 Arvind Gunasekar & Sukirti Dwivedi, Delhi Doctor Among 12 Dead After Batra Hospital Ran Out Of Oxygen, NDTV, May 01, 2021, https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/we-have-lost-lives-delhis-batra-hospital-says-ran-out-of-oxygen-for-80-minutes-2425842.
 In Re Inhuman Condition at Quarantine Centres And For Providing Better Treatment To Corona Positive v. The State of Uttar Pradesh, PIL No. 574 of 2020 All. HC.
 Vignesh Radhakishnan, Data | Domestic Violence Complaints at a 10 year high during COVID-19 lockdown, THE HINDU, June 24, 2020, https://www.thehindu.com/data/data-domestic-violence-complaints-at-a-10-year-high-during-covid-19-lockdown/article31885001.ece.