KARACHI: Eid without warm embraces, without going out to meet family and friends and without eagerly wearing new sets of clothes — for the second year in a row; this is distressing, to say the least. Who would have thought that in their lifetimes there would be celebratory occasions minus the joyousness, the beaming smiles?
The virus is still here, and it appears that it will not go away anytime soon. Lockdown of sorts is but inevitable. The inevitability is also felt because of the harrowing Covid-related reports coming out of India. So, the wise thing would be to celebrate Eid in a simple manner.
All important decisions in life have costs. When the first lockdown took effect in Karachi last year, it was a foreign idea for our citizens. Many did not even understand the gravity of the situation. For them, it was just another disease; there was also a group that thought it’s a conspiracy hatched by global powers to deprive us of something. The undeniable fact is: the danger is clear and present. Now the reality seems to have dawned on a majority of the Pakistani population, if not on all of them.
The state needs to protect daily wage earners amid ongoing stricter lockdown
Naturally, the costs are high. First and foremost: mental health. It’s important to remain mentally alert and not give in to the asphyxiating effects of lockdown. There are studies that have revealed that depression is on the rise and anxiety has got the better of many youngsters who find themselves unable to step out of their homes. (A survey has also suggested a spike in breakups.) This is the time to talk to each other and be good listeners.
Then there is the vital aspect of economic well-being, especially of those who belong to the low-income groups. Daily wage earners are in trouble — make no mistake. No less in discomfort are those whose lives depend on monthly salaries. The uncertainty is deafening.
While commuting to work in online cabs, this writer has come across drivers who have stopped sleeping or taking rest for long hours, simply because there isn’t enough work and therefore aren’t enough opportunities to earn as much as they want to. Talking to one of them, when the argument was made that lack of sleep or rest could hurt his health, the driver replied, “But no money will hurt my whole family.” This is a genuine dilemma.
In the UK, these days, the term ‘furlough’ is in vogue. It basically means temporary leave of employees. The good thing is that they get their salaries sitting back at home in order to evade the virus. There is nothing complex about it: it is the state’s duty to look after its citizens. If they’re required to stay put in their homes for a larger national cause, the state must look after them.
Obviously, Pakistan is not as economically free a country as many in the West. There is not much that the state can do. This was one of the reasons why, when the virus first hit the country (2020), the government did not opt for a complete shutdown in order to protect daily wages workers. The strategy worked to a reasonable extent. This time around, though, the lockdown is stricter. So, spare a thought for those who, as per an Urdu expression, dig a well for themselves on a daily basis to fetch water.
Published in Dawn, May 13th, 2021