Vulnerable Villages of Pakistan

By Naila Altaf Kayani

As of today, with fresh coronavirus cases reported in various parts of the country, nationwide tally surges to 1000  in Pakistan. This exponential growth in past few days is alarming in context of Pakistan. Where 70% of the population lives in rural areas with poor living conditions.
Pakistan is generally a conservative society strangled in old traditions and joint family system. Most of the houses hold three generations, where grand parents, their children and grand children live together. Family ties are very strong because of the religious and cultural values. Economic set up also adds up to closer family ties. Pakistani society is led by collectivism where family, neighbours and other relationships stand strong. Where celebrations and large parties with friends, family and community are very common. Muslims also believe that shaking hands is a religious obligation. Hugging is a 7common way of greetings. People eat together, sharing glass for drinking and eating from the same plate is considered a reason of receiving blessings. Social distancing is taken as social boycott in many areas. My own family, lives in a village in Azad Kashmir. We have four generations in our home, my grand mother, mother, me and my children. My grand mother is considered an elder un the village, people keep coming to visit her. It is customary to often pay visits to elderly in our villages. So everyone who has come from abroad or is going to another city for work or study, or simply has time today is supposed to see her. Neither she nor the villagers are ready to maintain any social distancing amid Corona epidemics despite our efforts.

They argue that the night pre-determined to be in the grave, can not be spent out if it.  Our children play together in grounds and streets of the village and come back to receive hugs from elders. Concept of social distancing is being taken as imprisonment.

More problems arrive with religious misconceptions. Muslims believe that the fate is pre-decided by God and no precaution can change it. Although there are clear Ahadith (Sayings of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) which are considered to be a source of religious guidance that Muslims are supposed to follow in their daily lives) regarding conduct during outbreak of an epidemic and on matters of reliance like a man once asked the prophet if he should tie his camel or leave her untie and trust in Allah? The Prophet replied “Tie your camel and trust in Allah.”(Source: Sunan al-Tirmidhī 2517). But unfortunately religious beliefs are usually not made through research and reading, they are often based on the customs and words of mouth.

Last Friday, 2 confirmed Corona patients vanished from isolation wards to offer Jumma prayer with groups. Religious clerics are openly claiming that Corona can not hit the people making ablution five times a day and coming to  mosques to offer prayers. These claims have a blind following and apparently they need no empirical evidence to back them. Another suspected CoronaVirus patient Taimoor flee quarantine from isolation ward in a hospital in Islamabad and used public transport reach his village near mine in Azad Kashmir, endangering many through his conduct. He was later returned to the authorities.

Although a ban has been imposed on banquet halls and marriage halls in the wake of coronavirus outbreak in the country yet marriages are taking place with usual festivity, huge gatherings and feasting. Religious gatherings like death anniversaries, majalis and collective sacrifice to put away evils of Corona epidemic are taking place here and there. Anwar, bridegroom of such a wedding ceremony that took place yesterday boasted about not fearing the consequences although he admitted that about possibility of a police raid on his ceremony. “O Corono humain kuch naje kehta” (Corona won’t harm us) he said.

Government has imposed travel and tourism ban, yet tourists are trying to reach tourist destinations through various channels. People are reported to have tried to reach certain places hiding them selves in luggage. A youth Saddam died of electric shock trying to cross barred off Kohala bridge. Similarly annual congregation of believers “Raiwind Tableeghi ijtima” took place in Lahore as usual despite serious thre3ats of virus spreads. These people gather in thousands of numbers every year and spread to far flung areas later in order to preach religion to masses. Such a group of 13 people visited and stayed at a place called Bharakahu near Islamabad and 5 of them were found to be confirmed Corona Virus cases.

Provincial Governments as well as AJK government has imposed travel ban and claims of installing strict screening mechanism have been made but as we entered the capital city Muzaffarabad a couple of days back, a few health department workers were standing on one side of the road, whereas the police asked us if we were tourists or locals. Using local language to claim that we were Locals and were not feeling sick got us through with out any screening.

As if today, government has locked down the country for two weeks, Army has come in aid to the civil administration, police and army has performed flag march in the streets. Government is trying to keep people in houses, but situation is worrisome specially in villages. As long as people do not cooperate and find it thrilling to violate government directives, nothing can ensure a stoppage in Corona virus spread in Pakistan. Education through television and specially through religious clerics is essential to persuade people for social distancing before it is too late.

The writer is a Social Activist, Public speaker, she can be reached at naila.altaf@hotmail.com

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