LAHORE: “This year, I have lost two jobs and I’m still jobless. And with the level of inflation right now I cannot even afford basic food items,” says Qasim, a labourer.

Qasim lives in a small one-room house in one of Lahore’s lower socio-economic areas, and is under severe pressure to provide for his three children, a wife and parents.

For a long time now, prices have been rising to such an extent that a petition has been filed in the Lahore High Court against a hike in the price of wheat. Hearing the plea, Justice Sajid Seth directed the government to explain why prices were skyrocketing and told it to lower the prices of essential food items.

Rising prices are directly interlinked with many basic rights. According to workers’ rights activist Farooq Tariq, even though the rise in prices is not a ‘human right’ per se, there is a general acceptance that it is definitely a violation of social justice.

“One thing is for sure that whenever there is a rise in prices, someone or the other is stealing money from the economic cycle, spreading poverty,” he said. “There is a concept of the ‘newly poor’, meaning there are millions who have gone below their pay scales, but thousands who have touched or gone below the poverty line. The worst off are small scale farmers and peasants.”

“This rise in prices has affected many things, including fundamental access to food, caused rise in domestic violence, suicides, drug use, school dropouts, etc. Women are more affected because they sacrifice or are made to sacrifice for the men of the family.”

In a market off Bedian Road, people throng to buy essentials. A shop owner revealed that families come in the evening when the markets are about to close and food items are cheaper. “It is more convenient for them to buy fruits and vegetables later in the day when they are at least Rs20 cheaper,” he said.

Khalid Mehmood of the Labour Education Foundation said rising prices affected many basic rights, including a decent living, right to food and right to housing.

“We usually talk about food items,” he said. “To be honest, Pakistan has been seeing a lot of inflation regarding food items, especially essentials, but there are so many other interlinked rights. Our own constitution’s Article 38 says decent life is a basic right. And when there is unchecked inflation then your basic right to decent life will end up being violated.”

He said a decrease in income soon followed rising inflation so the worst off was automatically the working class. “Sacrifices are made mostly by the working class. Most of the time it snatches away girls’ right to education.” The sacrifices are made over health and seeking cheaper alternatives becomes the preferred solution. Women are most affected.

“Women make the most sacrifices, and they deny themselves healthy food and proper medical care,” he said. “Besides health, they have also been suffering domestic violence, all because of such economic problems.”

With the Covid-19 pandemic aggravating economic problems, rising prices and unemployment have become the main issues after the health crisis.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet highlighted the effects of the pandemic in a press conference.

“This year has taken its toll not only across all regions and virtually all countries, but also on the full range of our human rights, be they economic, social, cultural, civil or political,” she said. “It has zeroed in on the fissures and fragilities in our societies, exposing all our failures to invest in building fair and equitable societies. It has shown the weakness of systems that have failed to place a central focus on upholding human rights.”

She added that the core ingredients of such rights were embedded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, whose 72nd anniversary is being celebrated this year. “It has been shocking, but sadly not at all surprising, to see the disproportionate toll of Covid-19 on individuals and groups who are marginalised and suffer discrimination,” said Bachelet.

Veteran rights activist Mr I.A. Rehman also said that if a person did not have a decent standard of living, and inflation has caused his or her income to decrease, then definitely there will be human rights violations. “All of human rights are interlinked, especially economic rights,” he added.

Published in Dawn, December 10th, 2020

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