Why This Kind of Self-Isolation Feels So Sick

Source; “Isolation” by Trinity Jackson

We are in lockdown. I would not call it a self-quarantine because it would be incorrect to say so. But I have not gone out of my home since March 15, more or less.

I am not a stranger to self-isolation like so many in my generation. I have been social distancing all my life, never being thrilled in the company of people I don’t trust. But it doesn’t always have anything to do with other people. It’s a state of mind.

In the fall and late winter of 2016, I confined myself to my home for six months on a diet of mostly coffee and roasted corn and binge-watching every World War II movie made under the Sun. It was a state of mind too. It didn’t lead to too many nice things, but I recall that pleasurable experience fondly. Every pleasure must end in pain, though.

Now, here we are. Locked up in self-isolation, if not “self-quarantine.’ The coronavirus pandemic is here. The apocalypse everyone couldn’t stop talking about is here.

This is not normal and this is not voluntary. Most of all, this is not enjoyable, even if a part of you is enjoying it.

But the economy is crashing, perhaps like never before since the Great Depression. You are supposed to be productive in this self-isolation.

How can you? You can barely remain sane,

And the disease has not knocked on your door, yet. While the others have not been so lucky. Who is to say if you are going to be immune to this misery, whether your neighborhood catches the virus or not. The disease is all-pervasive. Like God. It is almost God who is here to kill humanity.

It is our shared misery, that binds us in the bond of humanity.

How could you possibly enjoy it?

You are stressed. You are fatigued. You are shut down.

What are we supposed to do? Pretend that the pandemic crisis is not there? Pretend that you are free to go out and meet people anytime you can? Pretend to eat anything you can? Do anything you want?

But that’s not the worst of it.

How are you to pretend that the people around you are not at serious risk of falling ill and dying?

How are you to pretend that you are not going to be the next victim of the virus? Because you can do only so much to prevent getting infected.

We are all infected.

We are all out of touch.

The Coronavirus Debacle

Source: ARY News

Covid-19 or the disease caused by the Cov-SARS-2 Coronavirus was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11. Perhaps but probably a bit too late. It was a bit too late because only then had governments around the world had started to take the threat of the coronavirus epidemic seriously.

The last new year’s eve, I suspected that 2020 would prove to be an ominous year, but never in my wildest imagination could I expect the Chinese authorities to report the first coronavirus case to the WHO on December 31. The outbreak occurred somewhere in November 2019 and was named covid-19, caused by the Cov-SARS-2 virus that closely resembled the virus causing the SARS epidemic in 2003. The Chinese Communist Party initially tried repressing it, even punished the doctor who blew the whistle to alert about the threat. However, the sheer number of casualties and patients went out of hand and soon even a communication ban could not prevent the impact. The world was cautiously and horrifyingly watching the videos of people dragged away to the quarantine. China had dealt with more than one epidemic in the recent past. They probably knew what they were doing or so it seemed.

On March 8, many of us in Pakistan were at the Aurat Azadi March. Many others were attending weddings, religious and political congregations. I knew on the back of my mind that it was dangerous but considering the social and political atmosphere of the country, it had become too important to miss. However, in the retrospect, organizing the march was risky, if not a mistake. The pandemic had reached Pakistan’s borders already and even days later some of the March’s organizers were calling on the government for a shutdown.

Like most populist and conservative governments around the world, the trend we are currently seeing in Brazil and Mexico, the government of Pakistan remained in denial for a long time. The same was true for Italy and Iran. The same was true for Spain and the United States. The same is true for India. Realizing

While Ashraf Ghani was taking oath after getting reelected in Afghanistan in a controversial and close election amid explosions, and while Pakistani people were outraging about Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir attending the inauguration, and while Pakistan was mostly obsessed with Aurat March placards and PSL, the coronavirus had reached Pakistani borders.

On March 9, Pakistan only had 5 cases and nobody in the country was talking about it.

Even nobody in the United States was taking it seriously other than California, the state which probably had the earliest cases.

By this time, the novel coronavirus epidemic had reached disastrous proportions in Iran and Italy, countries which had also remained in denial about the threat. Meanwhile, the outbreak has been largely controlled in South Korea and Singapore, which had a tough February with it. They carried out very aggressive testing after meticulously tracking cases and limiting the infection. Japan followed the same path. Meanwhile, China would still take a couple of weeks to come close to easing an extremely strict shutdown in the Hubei province.

The 5 known cases had entered Pakistan through the Taftan border in Baluchistan from the afflicted province of Qom. These were pilgrims visiting holy shrines in Iran and returning. While many expect the Baluchistan government to handle the quarantine of these pilgrims, their entry and disaster relief was a federal subject, especially considering the funds involved.

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Nevertheless, Dr. Zafar Mirza, visited the Taftan camp on February 28 and expressed his satisfaction over the facilities. Days later, the quarantined patients escaped citing unbearable living and sanitary conditions. Many of them were later subjected to a similar detention camp-like facility in Dera Ghazi Khan. While nobody is necessarily blaming the pilgrims or another religious congregation, and that the pandemic had to find its way in the country in one way or another, the Taftan debacle certainly helped propagate the infection.

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By this time, many of the pilgrims arrived in Sindh and were sent to a quarantine center established in Sukkur. The Sindh Government, perhaps the first among the provincial governments to realize the gravity of the crisis, started pressing the federal government over a nationwide lockdown.

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However, religious groups continued to pose problems for the government, as is evident by the protest of the quarantined pilgrims and violation of protective protocol at the Sukkur Quarantine Center, a feat by the Sindh government usually maligned for incompetence.

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Until March 19, while the Sindh government was making strides to control the coronavirus cases, the Punjab government was still not taking the crisis seriously. The Punjab government was acting as if the infection in Sindh could not reach Punjab, with even its officials ignoring social distancing advice instead of informing the public. As a matter of fact, revelations about the approach of the Punjab Chief Minister created quite a bit of media hype.

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Apart from that, around the same time, the federal government was still wondering about the extent of the problem, while the staff of the largest hospital in Islamabad issued a grave warning about the challenge ahead. Later several doctors in that hospital would get infected and quarantined.

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Around that time, the federal government had completely different priorities, such as shipping cooked desi food to the stranded Pakistani students in Wuhan.

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To add insult to injury, the annual Tableeghi Ijtema at Raiwind near Lahore was to take place for which Muslim missionaries and preaching delegates had arrived from all around the world. It is not like your formal conferences with good accommodation facilities, but an informal gathering with a center of gathering with compromised hygiene and sanitation. Many social and political commentators and media called on the government to ban the congregation but the Punjab government allowed it to happen. Later, the tableeghi jamaat would cause dozens, if not hundreds or thousands, of infections in Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and even Sindh. Even two positive cases from Gaza Strip are reported to have attended the tableeghi congregation in Pakistan.

After the pandemic status was declared by WHO on March 11, the media had started making noise about the coronavirus threat. It ignited a new debate pressured by certain circles within the media and the Sindh Government on whether to enforce a nationwide lockdown or not. The absence of the Prime Minister in terms of communicating to the nation was also criticized until things got even worse when he did address the nation.

In an address to the nation that could be considered to be misleading the people, he declared that covid-19 was just a form of flu. He did not recommend a lockdown or even appealed to the religious clerics or tableeghi jamaat to suspend their religious congregations, but stressed social distancing and precaution at the same time. All in all, he downplayed the crisis in the manner of any conservative government currently in power around the world without a word to assure the provinces that the federal government was with them.

Misrepresenting the demands of lockdown as effectively a “curfew,” he declared that a complete lockdown was impossible for Pakistan considering a huge number of the population lives below the poverty line. However, despite the risk of people going hungry and out of work and possible food shortages, there was no assurance from the national leader. Even the young Ammar Rashid of the Awami Workers Party had better ideas for the labor and working class.

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It was perhaps this reason that the very next day, the military, Imran Khan’s original installers, had to intervene and announced their own lockdown plan, assuring that the armed force is prepared to take on this crisis. The Punjab government also announced a 14-day lockdown  Either the government was playing good cop, bad cop with the people or the Prime Minister was completely out of touch with the necessary policy for fighting the outbreak.

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The citizen breathed a sigh of relief when his next address had some hope of a relief package, including income relief for the underprivileged. However, that too was plagued with partisanship. While the Prime Minister did the right thing to announce. He kept on insisting that a complete lockdown will be impossible because of. Talking to media in the Prime Minister House, he had earlier implied that the curfew will remain to be the last resort. However, when addressing the nation, he remains to be confused about the lockdown, which is inevitable in the situation and not something anybody is asking for out of pleasure.

Incompetence is one thing, a PTI trait that most people in the country have come to learn by now, but intentional partisan divisiveness in a crisis and misinformation amount to malfeasance. The Prime Minister has repeatedly told the public that the covid-19 pandemic was just like another flu. This was obviously false information that nobody should believe. Here is how covid-19 is different from and more dangerous than flu.

Paradoxically, the confused leader has also repeatedly been appealing people to self-isolate and to maintain social distancing. The only consolation is that his record on public advice was not as atrocious as Boris Johnson, who tested positive for covid-19. Still, Imran Khan’s federal government remained lax on the Friday prayers issue until the provinces were forced to take measures to ban congregations without locking the mosques down.

While we stand firmly behind our government to overcome the pandemic crisis, the least the public can expect from the government is honesty. Unfortunately, most of the innocent people of Pakistan have no clue what kind of a pandemic disaster is potentially threatening their lives. Hardly any country in the world has the means to properly fight this crisis but misleading the public, especially about the protective precautions. And even his solutions such as the “Tiger Force,” a youth recruitment drive to take rations and awareness campaigns to communities, reek of partisan bias and have already been rejected by the opposition.

The government must continue to learn lessons from its mistakes and ensure that the people have supply relief as well as universal basic income delivered to their doorstep.

By the end of March, we have more than 2,000 cases of coronavirus and more than 20 deaths. If we do not take stricter measures, offer a viable channel of aid relief through the military, and do not flatten the curve, we could be waiting for a disaster the likes of which we have never seen before.

When Aurat March was Attacked by Islamists in Islamabad

Source: Reuters

On March 8, when progressive and liberal women were marching for their rights in Islamabad, and the Islamist parties decided to march alongside them. No, hell did not freeze over. The “Haya March” or the “Honor March” was meant to counter the agenda of the Women’s March on International Women’s Day. And the ingenious Islamabad Capital Administration, which had to be convinced to allow space to Aurat Azadi March, thought it necessary to allow the Islamist rally to be held right next to it at the National Press Club.

A natural consequence of this disastrous setup was chaos, indiscipline, and violence resulting in multiple injuries. Fortunately, nobody lost their life, even though the savage mullahs almost ensured it. And many of us, the citizens of Rawalpindi and Islamabad, were there to witness it.

While I have not favored the idea of attending the women’s march for years, primarily because I believe that men should not occupy women’s space on the occasion. Especially when a lot of enemies of the march had infiltrated just to harass women, as a few cases came out. However, I knew it was different this time because it was more like an ideological battlefield and we had to show up to show solidarity, other than covering it for a documentary. And the protest plot outside the National Press Club sure looked like a battlefield alright.

The March day afternoon was partly clear after a rainy morning and the assembly area was all wet and muddy. A tent fence divided both sides of the road by the Press Club leading to the F6 market and on the far side, the Haya March and its rally were to take place. Before any activity would begin on the progressive side on the assembly area, the Jamaat-e-Islami women were done marching as bus after bus with Jamaat-e-Islami flags would transport workers to the venue. However, the burka-clad women stuck around, apart from the Hijabi types who were also leading a rally, for the speeches by the “Ulema” or religious scholar leaders of the three Islamist groups organizing the march, Jamaat-e-Islami, Sunni Ittehad, and JUI-F.

Throughout the day, inflammatory speeches were heard from the other side. In just about any given speech, women in the Aurat March, just a few meters away were condemned as prostitutes, as women who would sell their bodies to the highest bidder. Despite all the venom, which was left unnoticed by the Islamabad Capital Territory Police, apparently already bracing for a riot by the looks of their gear, no reaction came from the progressive side. Meanwhile, the police did not bother to intervene to stop the hate speech and did not think for a minute what consequences it could possibly have. It is funny how the Islamabad DC was having a hard time allowing the Aurat March but did not lift a finger when the participants of the reactionary Islamist March showed up.

However, after all the speeches of the high officials of the Islamist alliance were over, their women participants, very few of who got to even speak, were ordered to exit the venue. Once they were gone, all the “political workers” positioned themselves to attack the fragile tent curtain partition separating them from the Aurat March. They started throwing large stones, bricks, canes, and shoes at the Aurat March and finally stormed on, barely controlled by the cops.

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A few people even got injured during the assault who were taken for medical help. But perhaps the most dangerous instance was Women Democratic Front leader Ismat Shahjahan who led the fight in Islamabad getting hit by a stone in her head. This could very easily have resulted in anything and the goons from JUI-F, Jamaat-e-Islami, and Sunni Ittehad did not consider the possible consequences of their actions for a moment. They indeed carried out the threats of their leader made a few days ago.

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The most condemnable bit was that Islamabad Police, always pandering to the violent religious forces, had refused the Aurat March participants to go ahead on the agreed-upon route. Ironically, the ICT Headquarters building was right next to the Press Club. Led by Tooba Syed, the march stopped in front of the building and vowed to block the road until the march was permitted to follow its route all the way to D-Chowk near the Parliament House. She, along with many other women activists of the Women Democratic Front, showed immense courage in the face of threats to their lives and had their voices heard.

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Since the Lal Masjid controversy, Islamabad has essentially become a battleground for secular political elements and the established theocratic fundamentalists in the country. Perhaps nothing manifests this conflict better than this single incident during the Aurat March, one which could have so easily resulted in the loss of life.

However, the courage displayed by the women in the face of violence and intimidation, especially the leadership of Women Democratic Forum under Ismat Shahjahan and Tooba Syed, gave anyone witnessing those scenes goosebumps. So many had tears in their eyes on the way forward and on the way back, not because they were afraid, hurt, or intimidated, but because they were proud to be a part of history.

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This is why Aurat March looks like a revolution and perhaps without its moment, it would not have proved so iconic. Bold, confident, emancipated women pissing social conservative mullahs and their allies off so much that they can barely hold themselves back from attacking them. It is simply shocking but that is what defines gender relations in Pakistan today.

The women have spoken up. They are marching and nothing can stop them now.

Aurat March Exposes a Moral Crisis in Pakistani Men

The opening week of March was revolutionary in terms of gender politics in Pakistan in many ways. Women leaders and activists made a greater impact than ever before for rallying for the Women’s March, and men all over the internet were triggered.

Leading the response of social conservative misogynistic Pakistani men was their patron saint, Khalil-ur-Rehman Qamar. Presented by the Pakistani conservative media as an intellectual, it is their answer to the rhetoric of educated liberal and progressive women who have started pushing the narrative of feminism in public discourse.

A long time anti-intellectual, Khalil-ur-Rehman Qamar had recently caught attention with a hideous woman-hating interview, and many of his plays apparently depict women in the same light. Not to take away the artist’s license, but when you pose yourself as a philosopher of life and preach about puritanical sexuality, then surely it becomes hard to separate art from propaganda. Especially when your top client is the state propaganda machinery anyway.

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On a television talk show, Khalil-ur-Rehman Qamar lost his temper and verbally abused and attacked feminist analyst and commentator Marvi Sirmed. All when they were discussing the Pakistani feminist slogan “Mera Jism Meri Marzi” or “My Body, My Choice.” Not only did he degraded Marvi but just like all conversations about Aurat March, he alluded to those women being sexually corrupt. Such comments were also widely made across the conservative media as well as the allegation of implementing a foreign-funded agenda.

Unfortunately, most of the people in socially conservative Pakistan believe that it is women talking about their right to have as much sex they want. While it should indeed be a part of their freedom, but it is not the only freedom indeed. Women particularly are talking about their right to be left alone, to not be harassed or raped, and yes, even to have their reproductive choice.

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With the likes of Khalil-ur-Rehman Qamar, even otherwise seemingly liberal figures, and unfortunately encouraged by ignorant social conservative politicians such as Faisal Javed Khan, conservative men in Pakistan have taken it upon themselves to harass women for speaking up for their rights. They have been slut-shaming the organizers and the participants of the Women’s March, and furthermore, stooping as low as to block the public space they have been trying to occupy.

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This mindset is evident from the coverage of gotcha conservative “journalist” Yasir Shami, trying to blackmail and shame a male ally at the Aurat March by invoking Islamic traditions.

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It was inspired by the same anti-intellectualism and outright bigotry that the Lal Masjid goons, the same infamous mosque in the middle of Islamabad that had threatened armed rebellion against the state, that vandalized Aurat March artwork and posters. JUI-F chief Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman, an otherwise democratic politician, also threatened violence if the Aurat March materialized.

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And if you think that this is extreme behavior only exhibited by the orthodox religious conservatives, there is no shortage of their supposed moderate and liberal allies who are socially conservative at heart and still want to perpetuate regressive roles for women. A similar mindset was at work when a conservative lawyer filed a petition with the Islamabad High Court to block Aurat March on the charge that it was against Islamic values. Challenged by the Women Democratic Forum led by Ismat Shahjahan, the relatively liberal judge Athar Minallah threw the petition out.

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It was an act of sheer courage itself that brave women political workers of the Women Democratic Front and the Awami Workers Party led by Tooba Syed went from street to street to put up posters for the March 8 event. This was probably unimaginable a few years back in the Islamic Republic but the courageous progressive women have made their presence felt on the ground in recent years.

This war of words between social conservatives and progressive women and their male allies have turned International Women’s Day into a battle of ideologies. However, the saddest bit is that in a country where vulnerable women and children have little protection from rape, the patriarchy is trying to suffocate and eliminate any dissent rebelling against their oppressive structure. At least, it had some immediate impact as Geo TV Network was forced to end their recently concluded contract with Khalil-ur-Rehman Qamar.

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However, none of the bullying and abuse has been able to stop these women to have their voices heard. The scenes in their press conferences chanting the slogan that has become the bane of the life of conservative men in Pakistan were surreal. The way women marched this March 8 under the banner of Women Democratic Front has probably never been seen ever since Zia-ul-Haq took power in Pakistan. Each moment of the March was revolutionary and we can hear and see the foundations of Pakistan.

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At least, their morals have been laid bare for the whole world to see.

That’s why women say, “Mera Jism, Meri Marzi.”