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Why Are Pakistanis Not Afraid Of COVID-19?

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The pandemic is real and people are dying of it, that is one thing that we are sure of. But it is also a fact that many of us are not taking the pandemic seriously. It is not an alien occurrence when one reads a meme or a status on social media about how poorly educated, inconsiderate, and ignorant the populous of Pakistan is.

There are two ways we can look at it: One, that the statement is true and we aren’t bothered with actions that might be impacting others. Or there might be a political and social explanation to why people, even in this time of turmoil, went shopping for Eid, or carried out their routinely dawats and were not deterred by the rising number of deaths.

Simply saying that the populous is ignorant and stupid is a very easy way to get out of the problematic question of why this is happening in the first place. Not only do we separate ourselves from the insolence of these ‘others’ who are stupid, but we also ignore the nurture that has been provided to us in Pakistan for quite a while. 

While growing up in Quetta, when I reached the age of sense and reason, the war in Afghanistan had already started. The influx of refugees and the Nato forces formulating their base just a few kilometers away from the house introduced me to what a cruise missile looks like. In my head, this is not very long after experiencing a martial law followed by a few days’ curfews. This is also when the war against the Taliban started and the occurrence of suicide attacks started to increase. Perhaps, Quetta was not safe, since it lied on the front of the battle between the US and the Taliban in Afghanistan. 

Moving to Lahore, a little further away from the border at war, we thought that perhaps things would settle a little, Perhaps the sheer brutality on the daily news would decrease. But, in Lahore, I was introduced to news channels, unlike the old times when there was only PTV and the 9 pm news. On these channels, the word of violence and death had not stopped. There was a time when it was absolutely normal that we would hear about a blast every day, where the number of people dying was never in single digits, which carried on for quite a while. 

I remember that when the APS attack happened, a friend of mine came up to us while we were seated on a bench, talking casually – after he had made the announcement of the number of bodies obliterated, the only response we had was a small pause – after which we simply continued with whatever we were doing before. 

How is this anecdote related to the coronavirus crisis? It has merely spread and ended up in a million deaths? So what? We have seen wars within our country where millions are displaced and lose lives too. A possible simple explanation to the reaction that we see from the masses is not because they are irresponsible or jaahil – these people might have experienced similar things to what I have experienced in this state. 

Where it is normal for dead bodies to fall in unison – not reacting to it is not because we are jaahil or insensitive by nature, or that the nature of the people is somewhat averse to sanity; it might be helpful here to consider in what turmoil we have lived and how different social institutions have normalized and desensitized us against something like people falling into mass graves every day. Perhaps, when we ask such questions as to why people are not following the SOPs, why aren’t people taking this seriously, we cannot simply reject the traumas that we have collectively experienced.

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