A prominent human rights group on Wednesday urged the Indian authorities to shift focus from widespread criticism over its recent coronavirus crisis management to boosting its pandemic response.
“The Indian government should be focusing only in its efforts on responding to people desperately in need of help and dying for lack of medical care. Instead, what we find is a prickly reaction to legitimate criticism of its handling of the crisis, including by trying to censor social media,” Meenakshi Ganguly, Human Rights Watch's South Asia director, said.
The NGO mentioned, in particular, that the government ordered to take down some 100 social media posts on oxygen shortages on fake information claims. The group also noted that the authorities had to ensure up-to-date information about COVID-19 statistics as hospitals are struggling to cope with record numbers of patients and cuts in medical equipment, and crematoriums and burial services are overloaded. The country's virus death toll is believed to be underrated, the watchdog noted.
In this regard, the government is bound to cease "censoring of free speech" to provide effective COVID-19-related communication, the group said.
It also stressed that the Indian authorities have been criticized for the contradictory data about the virus, permitting large-scale gatherings, including of religious nature, thus giving the population "a false sense of security only to be hit by this tsunami of infection now,” the NGO quoted as saying, Sanjib Banerjee, Chief Justice of India's Madras High Court.
The organization has also urged the government to release all those detained on a political basis, such as human rights activists, protesters, and journalists, to prevent the infection increase in prisons and detention centers.
India comes second in terms of the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 17.6 million, following the United States with more than 32.1 million cases. The Indian COVID-19 toll has been increasing rapidly since mid-February, continually setting daily records in new cases, and to date amounts to 201,187.
Multiple countries, including, Russia, have pledged their support to the beleaguered Indian people, who are struggling to contain the spread of the disease.