With the number of Covid-19 cases across the globe crossing 3 million and the death toll exceeding 2,10,000, most of the countries are putting in their best effort to tame the pandemic and drive away the virus. Given that preventive drives can succeed only by restricting people's movement and contacts, there is little point in questioning stringent steps of governments in this regard.
It is a given that human life is more prized and important than anything else. It is not because of any unawareness about the loss and inconvenience caused by extending the lockdown that extraordinary measures are taken in extraordinary situation. When the survival and existence of the entire humanity is in question, the war against Covid calls for the co-operation and participattion of all cutting cross differences between rich and poor, and between races and religions.
That remaining an undeniable fact, some countries throw rule of law into the winds in the name of the fight against Corona and violate human rights. The UN has been forced to issue a warning against this trend. The fingers of blame of UN Human Rights Commissioner ,Michelle Bachelet Jeria were pointed at governments that use any exigency to further their vested interests. Her focus is on the violation of fundamental rights under the cover of emergency or behind unavoidable governmental actions.
Countries have a right to introduce curbs to protect public health. But, as she stressed, any such restrictive action should be clearly unavoidable and indiscriminatory. The comlaints received by the UN Commissioner from different parts of the world speak of high-handed, even lethal, actions by the police and other security agencies In the name of enforcing lockdown and curfew.
She bemoans the fact that such onslaughts are perpetrated mostly on the poor and the oppressed classes. Actions like shooting and jailing people who are desperate for food and venture out in search of it, on charges of violating curfew, can never be accepted. Michelle Jeria reminds that they constitute unlawful acts and denounces unjust and violent arrests.
Sitting in Kerala, which is better placed with a relatively creditable record of democratic values and human rights, it may not be easy for anyone here to grasp the depth and relevance of the concern of the UN Commissioner. And by and large there are no complaints about actions of police or other law enforcing agencies of the kind condemned by the Commission. The reason is that since the majority of the people ralize that the lockdown is a desideratum for our own survival and safety, use of excessive force does not become necessary.
What needs special mention are the warning and caution against violations at regular intervals from authorities and the laudable role played by the media in delivering them to the public. In Kerala, the government also shows exemplary vigilance and insistence on resolving issues whenever criticisms and complaints are raised. But it cannot be said of other parts of India that they have a similar record. While accepting that the situation in the country overall is better in comparison with many other countries, it cannot be ignored that at least in some cases excesses have been reported from the part of law-enforcing agencies.
Another recent case cannot be glossed over: even as there is substance in the complaint that the people who attended a congregation in the Tabligh headquarters in Delhi did not comply with Covid-19 restrictions in time, it cannot be denied that using the event as a shield, a section of the national media and some political parties unleashed extremely hostile propaganda against religious minorities and even their faith. Subsequently Tablighi workers who were rounded up and put in camps, even when they were not Covid-infected, were denied food and medicines. As a result, two unfortunate men lost their lives. And it would be foolish to presume that the UN Human Rights Commission did not take note of the fact that the Minorities Commission of Delhi wrote letters about this to the state governor and the chief minister.
It would also be naïve to belittle the anger and sentiments created by this obvious discrimination and baseless propaganda among our friendly countries in the Gulf . The world media in a similar context did take not of the pictures of inter-state migrant labourers from different states walking hundreds of miles in search of food and shelter under blazing sun and falling in exhaustion. Nor can we dismiss the fact that the media and human rights activists who bring such heart-rending spectacles to the attention of the government and the people faced threats and prohibitions also come in for condemnation in the UN Human Commissioner's report. Covid-19 has to be fought and defeated at any cost. But that that can never be a shield for victimisation and misuse of power.