Lok Manch partners distribute dry ration kits in Odisha, India. Photo: Jayakanthama.

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed alarming human rights violations in India. Social distancing and the downward spiral of the economy have exacerbated inequality in Indian society. There is a marked increase in cases of murder, torture, starvation and death in prison. Violence against women and children, have also become commonplace.

Since the nationwide lockdown in March 2020, domestic violence complaints to local authorities increased 2.5 times. However, actual numbers are much higher than what is reported. When women report violence against them to local authorities, they are often threatened and sometimes brutally murdered. Women’s voices are being suppressed.

The pandemic has taken away the livelihood of people. Most of those involved in the informal economy were laid off, leading to an economic crisis, mass unemployment and reverse migration. Their situation is worsened by unfair labour practices and lack of access to healthcare, food and social security.

Human rights defenders have been arrested and charged for protesting against the government.1 Noted human rights activists who defend the rights of Adivasis (Indigenous people) and Dalits have also been detained. These human rights violations have impacted people’s lives, irrespective of caste, creed or sex. The protection and preservation of human rights is a great challenge for every citizen of India.

Lok Manch (People’s Forum) is a national platform for promoting the dignity and well-being of marginalized people in India. It helps prevent human rights violations by helping people know and protect their rights through capacity building. Lok Manch works with community leaders and encourages them to avail of their constitutional rights to food, education, information, land, livelihood, social security and health care.

During the COVID-19 lockdown, Lok Manch provided meals, masks, sanitizers and water to those most affected. It also conducted awareness campaigns on COVID-19 safety and worked with partners who maintained quarantine centres. Through the support of CJI and the Xavier Network, Lok Manch provided dry rations, alternative livelihood options and training for para-legal health workers.

The pandemic brought a drastic and profound change to our societies and economies. Lok Manch’s ongoing response to the pandemic reflect these changes. Its field partners continue to be the frontline workers who help control the outbreak. As the government rolls out its vaccination drive, Lok Manch is campaigning for them to reach out to poor communities and vaccinate everyone regardless of age and status. Lok Manch is also raising awareness to encourage more people to get vaccinated. This way, people will be the “chain breaker” and not the “spreader.”

The key to rebuilding a just and equal society is the recognition and respect of human rights, access to dignified work and equal opportunity for all. The continued spread of COVID-19 threatens recovery efforts in India. During these difficult times, Lok Manch will continue to stand for the people, initiate public health campaigns and generate alternative livelihood options to help ensure that rebuilding efforts stay on the right track.

1 https://www.fidh.org/en/issues/human-rights-defenders/india-release-human-rights-defenders-at-risk-in-the-context-of-covid

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