HRDs on COVID-19: Akram, sharing experiences as a human rights defender in India
“I was working on 15-20 cases in Lower courts in other states; now I am not able to visit the court or visit the families”.
– Akram, former guest of The Shelter City Network
Akram is a human rights lawyer from India and former guest of Shelter City. His work mainly focuses on the issues of extrajudicial killings and cases of public lynchings in the state of Uttar Pradesh. In 2013, he founded the Afkar India Foundation to strengthen the voices of marginalised sections of society against injustice and inequality by organising and supporting them to actively demand their constitutional rights and citizenship entitlements. Akram was a guest of Shelter City Middelburg in the first half of 2019, and after his return to India, he has been able to continue his work with more strength. In an interview with Akram, he gave us an inside view into the human rights situation in India during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Akram lamented that the severe lockdown imposed in India as a response to the COVID-19 outbreak has significantly hampered his work. “Now I am not able to go outside my home district”, he shares.
Life and working during lockdown
As a result of the lockdown, however, the nature of his human rights work has shifted – from provision of legal aid and protection, to provision of essential support and relief. What has also changed is the amount of time he dedicates every day to work – from 12 hours before the outbreak to 16 hours and more at this time.
Thousands of migrant labourers within India have attempted to return to their home states within the country following the decision of a nationwide lockdown on 25th March, 2020. Due to the cancellation of means of transport, they are walking hundreds of kilometres on foot suffering from hunger, injuries and police brutality on their way to cross from one state to another, as they are also risking spreading the virus.
Akram is organising food supply within his home district for migrant workers who are stranded there with no other support. He is also constantly making phone calls and reaching out to other activists within different districts in the Northern part of India, and are together coordinating relief efforts to support this vulnerable segment of the population. Civil society groups have established such support networks in other states within the country, and are coordinating efforts on WhatsApp. “The local people are organising support in their own states for stranded migrant labourers”, Akram was happy to share about this exercise of community solidarity.
“The good part is that there is good coordination between all activists and organisations within the country”.
Akram hopes to continue his legal work after the end of the 21-day national lockdown.
Communication is essential during the times of COVID-19, and so is local action and civil society support. How is your community dealing with the challenges presented by the pandemic?