We are living in one of the most difficult times of history when all of humanity is exposed to an invisible killer that modifies its killing instincts and tactics to inflict pain.
This sadistic tiny creature aka the novel coronavirus does not care about who you are – a business tycoon, a toiling labourer, a sophisticated thinker, a politician, a ruthless autocrat or a well-trained soldier. This death equalizer mocks at our helplessness and tells us that our most aspiring political question of an equal, just and happy life can be realized in the graveyard only. The rich and poor are destined to be equal, and ironically this posthumous equality is the only hope and the reason of content for us in these days of pandemic.
Amidst poverty, oppression and wretchedness, keeping body and soul together is the most important priority for the poor. Living in poverty is the most daunting challenge of life, and happiness becomes only an imagination to be attained in the life hereafter.
If we wait for death to play an equalizer role, we will end up waiting for our turn to face death to see equality. This is what seems to be the strategy of successive political regimes in Pakistan and the current government has mastered this art.
People are left to die under the sky while Covid-19 takes its toll on the citizens of this country beyond class and creed. We were told that our state protects the rich only but you can imagine the incompetence when it even fails to protect the rich. From the prime minister to his inflated cabinet of advisers, the government seems to be ambivalent about the deadly strikes of the coronavirus. There is some strange optimism that this pandemic will be gone soon without the government having to do much to prevent infections and deaths.
The bravery of the prime minister to end the lockdown when it was needed the most and his symbolism of not wearing a mask would compel even a simpleton to ask: what does our prime minister want? When death makes us equal, why can’t we attain this in our lifetime? Are we still waiting for this tiny creature to do the trick to make us equal and happy?
Our pandemic experience shows that happiness does not lie in amassing wealth by a few but instead in creating a society that invests in collective wellbeing and safety of humanity. Those with the unmet dreams of making the most of their surplus wealth are no different from those who died only dreaming of a wealthy life. Covid-induced deaths have sharpened the political question of building an inclusive and egalitarian society as a collective defence against the horrors of painful death. Had we invested in inclusive human development, we could have avoided death becoming the sole equalizer and a destroyer of unmet dreams of a happy life.
The secret of a happy life is about living in harmony with society and nature to enjoy the endowments of our collective achievements and progress. With all our claims of technological advancement all we have is sophisticated warships, missiles and arsenal to kill each other. When the pandemic does the trick of killing for us, shouldn’t we now focus on building a better world for humanity? We have not produced anything substantial to protect life and give us happiness. Having said that, let the world do its bit to build an inclusive, just and equal global society. Where are we standing today as a developing country and where should we be heading to build a better post-Covid world?
My generation grew up in transitional times when the society of Pakistan was undergoing rapid transformation from a dictatorial regime of 1980s to civilian rule in 1990s. Part of our political consciousness was shaped by a Hobson’s choice between corrupt civilian rule and dictatorship. The experience of this transformation is not a lone story of our generation in Pakistan only, but it has shaped the worldview and intellectual outlook of many young people who grew up in developing countries during the last four decades.
This journey of transformation has been fraught with context-specific challenges intrinsic to newly emerging political identities and socio-cultural relationships with the wider society. In the age of digital media, the youth is more connected globally through social media platforms which may help foster a global identity of being citizens.
However, within the national governments of both developed and developing countries the youth continue to face a choice dilemma on the question of political identity, social integration and critical engagement with the larger civil society. In countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Syria – with increasing religious polarization – social space for politically-assertive youth is shrinking fast. Many young people feel claustrophobic in the absence of alternate civil society spaces. In the developed world too, discourse analysis of social media networks suggests that most of the discussions revolve around the crisis of identity and lack of voice and assertive perspectives about civil rights’ movements and engagement in the mainstream debates on civil society, politics, economy and democracy etc.
Two recent events have jolted the world, adding to public skepticism of national and global systems of governance and the role of civil society in representing the citizens’ voice and allaying the woes of the poor and marginalized segments of society. First is the inadequate action by the national governments, global entities and civil society to tackle the health and economic crisis caused by Covid-19. Second is the incoherent response and lack of political will in democratic institutions to engage with rising civil unrest in the days of a global pandemic.
This global crisis has also given birth to scepticism about the efficacy of governance and the strategic agility of civil society organizations to respond to the crisis. Punctuated by the overall global crisis the debate about public sector, private sector and civil society has shifted towards integrated action from sectoral focus.
This is the time to build a world of equality when some of us are alive to experience it, following Keynes’ advice, ‘in the long run we are dead’. Let us aim to be equal before we die.