Discrimination amid pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought out the best as well as the worst in us. Everyone was greatly touched by the respect and response given to the services of doctors, healthcare personnel and those in other departments carrying out their duties.

Many challenges, however, lie ahead relating to the environment, the economy, society, and politics, but the greatest one is that of saving our humanity.

It is the responsibility of the state to ensure that its citizens are protected from unfair treatment, inequality, and discrimination; especially those who are weak and vulnerable.

They are subjected to human rights abuses and structural discrimination, and the Covid-19 pandemic has only made a bad situation worse.

During the ongoing pandemic, racism was quick to surface but other types of discriminations have also followed. These include domestic violence against women and children, discrimination faced by the refugees and civilian population affected by armed conflicts, people with disabilities, transgender communities, and indigenous people. Chinese residing in Pakistan as well as ‘Zaireen’ arriving from Iran were blamed for spreading the virus, and discriminated against.

Although vulnerable sections of the society face discrimination in Pakistan daily, but some like the indigenous community of Kailash, who number a few thousand, face real threat.

Anne Nuorgam, the Chair of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, has urged the member states and the international community to include the needs and priorities of indigenous peoples in addressing the global outbreak of Covid-19.

Sadly, this is not case in Pakistan. Under international laws, governments are under an obligation to uphold the fundamental human rights of the individuals, but can impose restrictions on some of them in case of serious public health threat, especially after the World Health Organisation has declared the outbreak of Covid-19 a global pandemic. Pakistan is no exception and can take necessary measures to protect its citizens, including those who are categorized as vulnerable.

There is a dire need for a specific piece of legislation addressing the challenges of the vulnerable people in the wake of Covid-19 outbreak. The most urgent legislation can be with respect to protecting them from the violence and crimes committed against them.

Pakistan should follow the example of the United Kingdom’s Racial and Religious Hatred Act, 2006 and make a similar law to provide them with security from being targeted on the basis of their race and religion.

Religious minorities in Pakistan usually work as domestic workers and are commonly subjected to various abuses in households, and such a law can protect them and their rights against such abuses.

The Government should also take the initiative and establish an office of the Ombudsperson to effectively and efficiently deal with the issues of vulnerable people which does not require adjudication of rights by the already overburdened Courts, so that their grievances are timely addressed.

The Covid-19 has a disastrous impact on the world economy, and the vulnerable people are struggling to fight atrocities, and surviving the pandemic. Majority of the people in Pakistan appear to be flouting official directions issued by the government to observe social distancing while there seems to be no priority to protect the vulnerable people who continue to face discrimination on the bases of their religious beliefs, race, and gender. The government has not yet announced any policy to ensure protection against the discrimination in the wake of ongoing pandemic which is alarming.

Legislation and similar measures might not appear to be much but will be a step in the right direction.

The principle of dignity is enshrined under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as article 14 of the Constitution of Pakistan, making it incumbent upon everyone to treat others with respect and dignity. The greatest challenge for Pakistan is to protect its vulnerable communities amid Covid-19 pandemic from discrimination, violence, and injustice.


The writer is a former civil judge and a judicial magistrate in Karachi.


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