Religious discriminations amid COVID-19 in Pakistan!

The pandemic COVID-19 is affecting everyone globally. Pakistan is showing an alarming increase in patients affected by the virus. Since March 21, Pakistan has been placed on lockdown by authorities seeking to slow the spread of the virus. All over the country, the case rate is above 3,000 and over 60 persons have died until this date. Critics argued that the number of cases and deaths may be higher than the published data.

The country has come together to fight against the virus, however, the relief services are distributed unequally in some parts of the country. In Pakistan, various types of aid are being distributed in response to the coronavirus. These include basic living supplies, medicines and hygiene materials. The Pakistan Director of the National Commission for Justice and Peace reports that minorities  especially labourers on daily wages  are just as badly affected by the coronavirus lockdown as the Muslim majority population. Since the poor and minorities are more vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19 and due to the nationwide lockdown, the government announced some relief packages specifically for these section of the population.

To access these relief packages, people are required to enrol into an online government service website. However, religious minority groups are facing problems to get these reliefs due to religious discrimination. Multiple sources have also stated that the country’’s religious minority groups have been denied to have access to these relief services. These religious groups in Pakistan take up about six per cent of the population. The experiences from the people in the minority communities show that they are discriminated massively in medical aid and other basic living supplies such as food ration.

From the past couple of years, Pakistan government has oppressed the works of civil society organisation due to which the Muslim groups and organisation- particularly the religious Islamic groups have become more active in the country. These groups are being mobilised to distribute relief packages to the people in need. However, these groups are holding back the relief packages for other religious minorities and are distributing these supplies to the people from their religious communities. The groups have refrained to distribute the government announced relief packages to the minorities in the name of Muslims Zakat (fund for needy in Islam as a religious obligation). This means they are bound to only to distribute the relief packages to the deserving Muslims who technically do not qualify for the ineligible. At this moment, religious minority groups are told to leave the ration distribution centres empty-handed since the rations are only meant for the Muslims. Many of the religious minority groups now have nothing to eat. They are denied fundamental human rights and are marginalized in many ways. This becomes extremely visible during these times of crisis. The minority groups do not have any protective measures such as face masks, gloves, hand sanitizers, hand soaps at their home. Furthermore, on 29 March a charity organization acting in response to the COVID-19 crisis refused to provide food aid to Christian and Hindu people.

In general, the minorities in Pakistan work on daily wages and their incomes are low. They often work in professions like sanitary workers, domestic workers, sewer men, brick-kiln workers and as bonded labourers. Many of these work circumstances are highly polluted, making transmission of the virus easier and thus make workers more vulnerable to being infected. These workers also have to work with highly infectious hospital waste, distilling and garbage collection without any precautionary measures and safeguarding kits. Even most of the paramedic staff, nurses and cleaning staff are from religious minority groups who are working in Quarantine Centers without protection measures. So, the chances of these workers getting infected with corona are extremely high. Moreover, when these workers return to their homes, they can infect their families.

Currently, the lockdown in the country has forced most of the daily wages workers to stay at home. This also brings great problems; the government is unable to pay the salaries of most of these daily wage workers including sanitary workers and sewer men. This incapability of government to give more attention to the jobless daily wage labourers has pushed these marginalized people to starvation and many have also started to beg. Private hospitals are also charging extremely high prices for test screening and the treatment, so the government quarantine is the only option for these poor people.

Human Rights Focus Pakistan (HRFP) urged to provide hygiene equipment, to aware the minority populations about precautionary measures and to provide them with basic livelihood supplies and medicines on an equal basis. HRFP demands the government to start providing masks, gloves and other protective measures such as safe dresses for the hospital workers, for sewer men, sanitary workers and housemaids so that they can stay safe. HRFP also demands the government to provide monthly stipends to the jobless and home bounds daily wages labourers. Minorities patients in quarantine centres should not be mistreated and should get equally relief, proper treatments and ventilators without religious discriminations.

The minorities immediately need more support as HRFP with GHRD has started a campaign for assistance and awareness on WHO’’s recommendations:

1. Wash your hands regularly for 20 seconds, with soap and water or alcohol-based hand rub.

2.  Cover your nose and mouth with a disposable tissue or flexed elbow when you cough or sneeze

3.  Avoid close contact (1 meter or 3 feet) with unwell people.

4. Stay home and self-isolate from others in the household if you feel unwell.

5. Don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth if your hands are not clean.

Human Rights Focus Pakistan

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