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Daily Times Editorial 30 May 2020

Enforcement of SOPs


Once again the Punjab government was forced into a huddle to decide about the way forward, and once again it found itself paralysed. The indecision is understandable, since going back to the lockdown would simply ruin the economy and not doing so in light of the number of new infections as well as deaths would also not be right. Yet it’s not as if nothing is happening in all the time the government is taking in coming to a decision. And there’s a reason that the curve has gone up so sharply in the last fortnight or so. Wasn’t it about just two weeks ago that the lockdown was formally lifted, even though it was never really fully enforced to begin with, and wasn’t the impact of the decision going to become apparent around Eid?
Clearly the results are not good. And the number-one reason, quite frankly, is the inability of the federal as well as provincial governments to enforce necessary Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). For just as soon as the lockdown was relaxed, people just thronged to public places especially shopping markets, in complete defiance of all safety measures, as if mingling and mixing was in fact the cure for the pandemic. You could forgive the poorer sections out and about on the hunt for work and food, but what about the super-rich falling all over each other at luxury stores? The Punjab government could listen to all the restaurant owners and businesses in Murree and give the green light so their crucial seasonal earning is not missed, but who is going to help it police all the people in all the public places, telling them to stand and sit a few feet apart for their own benefit?
There’s no reason for Pakistan to be any different from any of the other countries facing the same situation. There, at least, governments can count on people to do the right thing. No government has the capacity or the manpower to monitor all its people, neither is it advisable considering that having more people on the ground would only increase the risk of the infection spreading even further. It is, therefore, up to the people at the end of the day to make this exercise a success or a failure. And, sadly, too many Pakistanis did not behave responsibly at all over the last few days. Perhaps the government should overcome all hesitation and first invest its energies in a vast awareness campaign. People must know just how seriously, like never before, whatever they do just as they leave their homes can make the difference between life and death not just for them but also for a lot of other people.


Plight of women prisoners


Prime Minister Imran Khan must be appreciated for forming a committee to study and investigate the plight of women in prisons, both convicted and awaiting trial. That the committee has been put in place in the larger context of gender bias prevalent in society is even better news. The plight of women has been in crying need of official attention for the longest time in this Islamic Republic. Everybody knows of their trials and tribulations often in their homes, workplaces and especially in places like jails. This issue especially, the abuse and degradation they go through as a matter of routine in prisons, has gone unaddressed for so long that people have come to accept the state of affairs as they are. And nobody, really, expects anything to change anymore.
That is why this particular news will have to become something more than just a breath of fresh air. Sure, all long journeys begin with the first step, and this is as good a first step as any, but there will be a long list of issues to address as this road opens. They way women are treated and abused while they are in jail, sometimes for very long durations even without formal charges, is simply appalling yet it has come to be accepted as the way things are just going to be. A lot of these women become drug addicts and mental patients during their imprisonment, and a very large number also has children that are forced to grow up in such an environment. To even begin to do something about the plight of women prisoners, the government will need to rewrite the whole book on their treatment right from trial to and during incarceration.
Then there is the wider picture to consider. It is indeed a good thing that each year sees an even larger number of women getting educated as well as entering the job market. But most of these fine ladies are still coming from the upper-middle and upper classes. And it’s not as if their many problems like harassment and discrimination have ended. The fate of those lower in line is, as we all know, a lot less to write home about. PTI has long stood for empowering women and while other parties have also raised similar slogans and never delivered when in power, many expect this time to be different. And the prime minister seems to have remembered this particular promise and decided to finally get on with it.
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