A walk-in test centre for coronavirus in Ernakulam

The Covid-19 pandemic is a deadly and contagious disease. There is no preventive medicine or vaccine available till now. We are faced with an unprecedented public health crisis situation. However, the manner in which our government is dealing with this public health crisis by announcing a lockdown and implementing it by unleashing brute force and police repression on ordinary citizens clearly tells us that the state looks at it as a law and order situation only. It is also very clear that public health in developing countries has received scarce attention and resources, especially with the onset of the neo liberal economy, and over time the provision of public health services and health infrastructure has become abysmally low. Poverty and malnutrition have further weakened the immunity and health conditions of large sections of people. The state is making frantic attempts to hide the glaring loopholes of its public health policies and poor health services by becoming authoritative and imposing more and more repressive measures. The mainstream media also helps whip up the hysteria to turn the public health issue of Covid-19 into a war that has to be fought.

Instead of making free tests available for the detection of the corona virus in patients and assuring quarantine and treatment facilities, it has become a big opportunity for the central government and almost all state governments to announce lockdowns and boost up the power and authority of police and administration to deal with the crisis.  The hysteria whipped up makes it seem like a crisis of national security and not a public health crisis. People are being chased and mercilessly beaten, humiliated, made to kneel down or do sit ups as punishment, and hold up slates and posters admitting they are terrorists! As witnessed in Surat in Gujarat, Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu and other places, there have been several incidents of brutal and inhuman torture and even deaths in police custody of those rounded up for not observing lockdown norms. In Sundargarh district of Odisha, a 13-year-old girl was gang raped by police officials in the Biramitrapur police station throughout the lockdown period.

In the last three months, hundreds of police cases have been registered against ordinary people for breaking lockdown regulations imposed by the administration.  Thousands of migrant workers who were forced to return to their own states after losing livelihood have been most targeted. Many people have been sent to jail; and thousands of vehicles have been confiscated.  The state is imposing its authority in multiple ways, including collecting huge amounts of revenue by imposing fines on people for not wearing masks, maintaining “social” distance and observing lockdown norms and regulations. It is most ironical that these measures of control and repression being carried out are ostensibly for public good.  On one hand, there are closure of factories and shops, workers being thrown out of employment, migrant workers becoming economically and socially devastated,  hundreds of people dying and the income level of more than 70% people  falling down. On the other, the state has seized upon the situation as a unique opportunity to go ahead with its cherished neo-liberal economic agenda.  As the state hurriedly paves the way for corporations to carry on their business unhindered in different sectors, it is simultaneously eroding the hard won rights of the labour class. Many industrial and mining projects are being cleared overnight that have been in the pipeline since a long time because of not meeting environmental norms; the few mechanisms of public consultation of local people that were there earlier are being removed to aid capital.  To facilitate the entry of corporate houses into agricultural sector and to secure their monopoly over the trade of agricultural produce, the government is allowing anti-farmer contract farming and has hastily brought out ordinances to amend Controlled Marketing Act and Essential Commodities Act. The state has done away with labour laws that have been there since a long time. Instead of the 8-hours work day, workers have to work 12 hours per day. The Minimum Wage Act as well as the Industrial Dispute Act are also being compromised. The semblance of protection that workers have been able to ensure through years of struggle are today under attack through anti-labour policies introduced by state and capital.

The Covid-19 pandemic and the prolonged lockdowns have come handy for the state to crack down on voices of dissent even more than before. The situation has stalled the protests that have been raging against CAA, NPR and NRC across the country. Students, intellectuals and social and political activists who had participated in these protests are being arrested under fabricated cases. Many incarcerations have taken place. Activists protesting against the communal violence that targeted the Muslim community in North-East Delhi and those engaged in providing relief and support to the community are being arrested under charges of having instigated the violence! These extreme steps even led to the arrest of a 27-year old woman activist who was pregnant.  The policy of imposing provisions of draconian laws like sedition and the UAPA has become more prevalent in this period.

Instead of enacting a new disaster management act for mitigating and managing the effects of this huge disaster, the government hastily announced a lockdown without making any arrangements for the safe return of migrant workers or of providing relief to lakhs of families who are directly affected by the disaster. In fact, both central and state governments did not forego any opportunity – small or big – to further tighten their own authority and hold over the lives of citizens at every level.

We in Jan Adhikar Manch demand that the government create the necessary infrastructure arrangements for public health so that people have access to testing for Corona and those afflicted with the virus are able to get safe and sound quarantine facilities, treatment and health care.  In order to develop resistance to the pandemic, let nutritious food be made available for people to boost up their immunity and overall health.  Let financial aid be made available for peasants, workers and unemployed people immediately with long-term plans of making employment available for all. The Manch is keen that both the Centre and state governments develop such long term plans for all. Instead of treating the pandemic as a law and order situation, let the government look at it from the perspective of a public health crisis. Police repression should be brought to an immediate halt. We do not need imposition of fines, arrests and detentions to enforce the use of masks and other norms during lockdown. The police and administration should foster public awareness with sensitivity along with support of government and non-government bodies and institutions. Instead of instilling the fear of punishment, the government should inculcate awareness about the pandemic among all. In order to tide over the crisis, let funds be raised from corporate and wealthy people by levying taxes on them. Such suggestions were given by some top revenue officials and their organization.  It is most unfortunate that instead of paying any heed to these suggestions, the government initiated action against them. The Manch condemns such action of the government.

Jan Adhikar Manch strongly appeals to the Centre and state government for the withdrawal of contract farming and anti-labour labour law ordinances, the unconditional release of all political prisoners as well as the withdrawal of all cases foisted on people during the period of the lockdown.  We demand the withdrawal of cases of sedition and UAPA on political prisoners and anti-CAA protestors. The Manch strongly opines that it is high time to build up popular opinion and democratic people’s struggle against these anti-people policies and the state repression to implement them.

Constituent Organizations of Jan Adhikar Manch: All India Kisan Mazdoor Sabha (AIKMS); AIKKS, AIKMS, Adivasi Bharat Mahasabha; Upakulia Jami O Jungle Surakshya Samiti; GASS; CMS-Odisha (AIKMKS); Janbadi Lekhak Sangh; Banwasi Surakshya Parishad, Kandhamal; Basti Surakshya Munch; Humanist Rationalist Organization; MASM; Campaign Against Fabricated Cases; Malkangiri Zilla Adivasi Sangh; IFTU and TUCI

Our contact Email ID: janadhikarmancha@gmail.com


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