The heavy lockdown

Published May 27, 2021
In this file photo, a policeman punishes people in Surjani Town, Karachi over lockdown violations. — Online/File
In this file photo, a policeman punishes people in Surjani Town, Karachi over lockdown violations. — Online/File

KARACHI: Health and the economy — these are the two major issues facing almost every nation in the world ever since coronavirus emerged as a pandemic that had, and still has, the potential to damage the human race irreparably. Fair enough. Health or the economy? It’s a chicken and egg situation. What the Sindh government did early last year was praised by all and sundry. The federal government’s steps in that regard were also commendable, which was why (and for some other unexplainable reasons), thankfully, Pakistan is a country not as badly affected by Covid-19 as some other countries in the world.

But then we are not an uncomplicated people and our governments sometimes work in, for want of a better phrase, mysterious ways. To boot, those who are entrusted with the duty to make sure that government orders are complied with can behave in a pretty heavy-handed, unjust manner.

We all know that big business enterprises manage to pull through in difficult times, simply because they have savings and can take austerity measures to keep their heads above water. It’s the small businessmen, the shopkeepers, those who run general stores and those who use pushcarts to sell their foodstuff in order to make ends meet that find themselves in an extremely tight spot. To boot, the way the law enforcers behave with them puts a dampener (and raises doubts) on the government’s intentions of keeping citizens healthy.

Police heavy-handedness in enforcing lockdown measures is reprehensible

The moment the Sindh government announced that markets would be closed at 6pm rather than 8pm (although one fails to understand what difference two hours can make in a city such as Karachi where a rally participated by thousands of people on Sunday did not ring Covid alarm bells for it) created an atmosphere which is not easy to describe. You ask the shops to close at 6pm, fine. But they’re browbeaten into doing it. There can be civil ways of performing your duty. The police, in the morning or afternoon, can visit the markets and remind the shopkeepers that by 6pm they bring their shutters down. What one usually sees is that right at the cut-off time they rush to the bazaars and browbeat the salesmen to call it a night. Now an argument can be made that in our part of the world, such behaviour is called for. The counter-argument is that this kind of an approach generates conspiracy theories among those who are already suspicious of the virus’s presence, leave alone its perniciousness. As a result, the government’s intention is questioned.

The incident on Monday of ‘roughing up’ of two journalists in the Sindh capital who were covering their parts of the city as lockdown took effect is reprehensible. This is not the time to be cruel and to assert authority come what may. It simply doesn’t suit any democratic dispensation. If those who call the shots, as it were, are sincere in keeping people hale and hearty, being overly strict will not completely serve their purpose.

Also, parks and recreation spaces where WHO health protocols ‘can’ be followed in letter and spirit should be allowed to remain open for longer hours. Mental health is just as important as physical well-being.

Published in Dawn, May 27th, 2021

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