Downright inequities in Pakistan

The writer is a special correspondent at The Dayspring
By: Syed Shahzaib Haider

The coronavirus is not just a matter of pandemonium for us, however it reveals the truth that we have two entirely different worlds in Pakistan of rich and poor. As we can see for some it means an enforced holiday and on the other hand, we have millions of poor daily wagers who are desperately trying to get any work to have food. The life and struggles of these two divisions are hugely different that it makes one wonder if they are from two separate, totally unconnected realities. The affluent class of our country have been in their cocoons all this time of lockdown complaining about not being able to travel or play a round of golf, or hang out with friends in restaurants, or going to the gym, saying that they can’t catch a movie etc. Some says that the domestic help has gone back to his/her home due to lockdown. The pandemic provides an opportunity to the rich in our country to indulge in unlimited entertainment. They have Netflix, Amazon Prime, and YouTube, while some have been busy taking online lessons on music, dance, fitness or how to cook exotic dishes.

Those who are spiritually inclined, have started taking lessons on meditation and yoga, or they have been listening to the talks of the religious scholars which is a good thing indeed.  Some folks have flaunted their culinary skills on Facebook and Instagram. Every day there are lots of photographs on social media showing the food items along with pictures of different kind of stimulant drinks complementing the meal. Seems like it is the most enjoyed time of their life, as their groceries are delivered to their doorstep from various grocery stores, making certain that they bought large quantities to fill up their refrigerators. It is this kind of selfish, thoughtless consumption during lockdown that ended up reducing the stocks in the stores incredibly fast, leaving many returning home empty handed.

Now, contrast this affluent lifestyle with the millions of poor people in our country who have been fleeing from the cities because they lost their jobs under the circumstances and had no choice but to return to their native villages. many ended up in hospitals because they had no facilities and proper medical measures to fight the virus. While some had to go through starvation under the blazing sun. because in the beginning all the transport means were absent. I have seen myself some profiteers who had private cars looted the poor to take them to their native villages. It was a horrifying sight. Government didn’t have any plans to transport the migrant workers to their homes, This Pandemic has shattered not only the lives of migrant workers but also the small traders and daily wage earners.

Let’s take an example of someone I know personally, Arif who runs a tiny florist’s shop in F-10 Markaz Islamabad. When I called him to have some flowers delivered to my father on father’s day, Arif said his shop had been closed since March 15, 2020. He said that his savings were all gone, and he hardly has anything left to buy food. The financial help given to him by government wasn’t enough to feed his whole family for this long. When he was forced to shut down his store, he lost all the fresh flowers he had bought that morning worth Rs 15,000. Arif told me in all frankness that if he couldn’t open his shop again his whole family would be ruined. Sadly, his shop is closed to this day.

Then there’s Haleema bibi, who works as maid in different houses. Every day she walks from her place to come to work. Her husband is a mental patient who stays at home. His medical bills come to Rs 2,500 each month. She has one daughter who is 13 years old takes care of her father. Haleema earns about Rs 12,000 each month, and from that she has to give to her room rent as well. Haleema hasn’t worked for the last two and a half months. All family members are now surviving on the food items given to them by the people around. She bought oil, potatoes, and lentil with the meagre savings she had. When the savings were gone, they borrowed money from neighbors to buy medicines for the husband. Haleema herself told me that she is completely broke. She doesn’t know how they are going to repay the loan unless she starts to work again, but that’s not even possible right now because people are so frightened of the virus they don’t allow any domestic help to enter their homes for work.

There are millions of poor, struggling people like Arif and Haleema right now in our country. The crucial difference between the affluent class and the poor is that the poor has no cushion; no reserves of anything, be it money, food, or medicines. Majority of them live on the edge. Many of these economically disadvantaged people can’t even afford two meals a day. These gross inequities remind me of Hazrat Umar R.A, when he said that in my reign I am responsible of a dog if he dies of thirst. For him, the cruelest act is when someone eats and drinks in excess and masses of starving people look at his feast hungrily.

It’s time for us to understand that how many of us are being cruelest according to Islam. I am not suggesting that we all give up enjoying the good things in life, but we can certainly be more empathic with those who are suffering. We also need to build a system that is respectful and fair. We can start by paying a decent salary to the domestic help that is more than what we spend in our monthly dine out. Is it so hard for us pay them a little money for their doctor’s visit? These are just some of the very basic requirements to bring about some impression of social justice. And last but not the least, we should learn to treat poor with respect and compassion because probably this act only will get you shifa-at of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.W).

The writer is special correspondent and columnist at The Dayspring. He can be reached at [email protected]