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Class Consciousness In The Times Of Corona

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Maria B incident brings to the fore the class consciousness of Pakistani people, writes Ummar Ziauddin.

Public opinion on the Maria B incident is divided. We have heard multiple versions now from the alleged abusers and self-styled victims; twice from Maria B – and hope not to hear again from her any time soon. We have heard from her husband – and some of us do feel sorry for what he had to go through. Regardless, people have picked sides. And often, the sides chosen by the people are informed by class consciousness. It doesn’t take an awful lot to hate the rich in our society. They exist is a reason enough. Atop that, when people see such complete lack of empathy for the working classes, they are quick to execute the rich. Societal classes in our society now increasingly shape up our views on socio-political issues. And this write-up is not intended to propose solutions to class struggles. It is just a comment, more like a staircase, leading to nowhere.

Briefly, this is what happened: A poor servant to a rich household contracts Covid19. For fear of spread, he is asked to leave the house and travel back to Vehari. He travels back by public transport. Who else is from Vehari? Waqar Younis. This detail is not important. But that’s just about the facts we need to work with – except for the Waqar Younis bit. All else that we have heard is glossed over – or in legal jargon, an afterthought! Perhaps not. No need for spins – just as yet. More follows. Police raid the fancy house of Maria B (we all saw the opulence on display in the background, admit it) and her husband is arrested. He says he was not informed of his, so to speak, Miranda rights. Guess what? We don’t have Miranda rights in Pakistan i.e. people are never informed of the charges, or rarely given the time to respond before they are arrested once the first information report (FIR) is lodged.

Just how much information is divulged to the accused depends on the discretion of the investigating officer. And this is wrong. It is wrong, independent of societal classes one hails from. As per the criminal procedure code, before an FIR is lodged, the investigating officer undertakes a preliminary inquiry. The person who is charged with any crime must be made part of it. If that inquiry culminates into FIR, then just because FIR is lodged, even in a cognizable offence, it does not mean that the accused nominated in the FIR, must necessarily be arrested. If the person does not have criminal antecedents; is not a threat to the society; is not likely to tamper with the evidence or he undertakes to cooperate with the authorities, he need not be arrested – or even move the court for pre-arrest bail.  And this view has been reiterated by the superior Courts time and again.

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For instance, the Supreme Court in “Sughran Bibi Case” (PLD 2018 SC 595) opined that registration of FIR doesn’t mean the accused must also be arrested. However, the police officials need to be trained on due process rights of the people. Both under Article 10A (due process clause) and Article 9 (right to liberty clause) of the Constitution; it is an entrenched right of a person to be informed of all their rights at the time of arrest, including, the right to consult a lawyer.

Remember, FIR is not the determination of guilt nor a substitute for Court verdict.

Mohsin Hamid’s unputdownable debut novel, Mothsmoke, among other things, is a great critique on social classes in society. And one symbol he employs is of air-conditioners. From the novel, there are only two classes in the society; those who have air-conditioning and those without it. That in itself may not be criminal – but like the novel set in urban Lahore reminds us; it is the sheer contempt of the working classes that is criminal. And that contempt brewing in urban Pakistan is so pervasive that the people with air-conditioning don’t even realize it’s there.

Maria B educates us that she actually saved the servant’s life by first isolating him and then giving him extra-cash for him to travel alone. She repeats after her husband, that extra-cash was given, even though the servant did not need it, as he was going to travel with a family member. It is the bloody servant’s fault that he first contracted Covid19 exposing the family to risk (Elsa in palace told us she is a victim because she awaits her test results) and then the servant was dumb enough not to follow the guidelines by traveling on public transport. The poor yard boy simply doesn’t have the capacity to follow simple instructions, eh?

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Although I had wished against it, if Maria B does choose to make another video, I hope she quotes Che, either to start or finish her mercy petition. Imagine her saying “…when the great guiding spirit cleaves humanity into two antagonistic halves, I will be with the people.”

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