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The Express Tribune Editorial 4 June 2020

Resumption of fishing

In a pragmatic move, Sindh government has lifted the customary ban on fishing in June and July in view of the growing economic hardships facing the fishermen community because of the lockdown in place for more than two months. Fishing in the sea is banned in June and July as this period is breeding season for the marine species. This year there is an entirely different situation engendered by the coronavirus pandemic. Forced by their worsening plight, fishermen had lately been trying to convince the government of the need to lift the suspension on fishing through public and their trade representatives to enable them to resume fishing activities so that they could meet the needs of their families. Exporters had backed the demand of the fishermen as they too were feeling the pinch due to the prolonged suspension of fishing. Now all those associated with fishing in one way or another will heave a sigh of relief.
The government, in consultation with all stakeholders, has taken the decision to allow resumption of fishing and other associated activities, and has prepared the relevant SOPs. The authorities have asked fishermen and all those engaged in related activities to strictly observe social distancing and follow other preventive measures, because in this way not only would they be protecting themselves from the deadly virus but would be saving the whole society from contracting the Covid-19 illness. Taking preventive steps is thus more a social responsibility than individual responsibility. As things stand now it is only through collective efforts that the pernicious virus can be defeated. Doctors, paramedics and ambulance drivers are risking their lives to save those suffering from the contagion. Many medics and paramedics have died while saving fellow human beings. We should be paying tribute to these noble souls by following SOPs.
A prolonged strict lockdown would result in a super monster pandemic of coronavirus, bankruptcy and unemployment.


Plight of female prisoners

In a patriarchal society that is quick to throw its delinquents in prison, women behind bars remain the less visible victims in Pakistan as they are more often than not neglected by the criminal justice system. Some 2,000 females are locked up in prisons across the country, with still awaiting trial and some facing the death penalty. The conditions these women have to endure within such a highly-gendered and marginalised system is disquieting to say the least.
In Pakistan, prisons have been left in tatters. Their hallways echo the helpless voices of incarcerated women who, apart from being emotionally and physically abused before conviction, are often subjected to coercion, harassment and torture after being locked up. Therefore, many have exhibited signs of depression, stress, sleep disorder and general anxiety. In most cases, children have no other option but to live with their mothers in prison. In 2014, the Justice Project Pakistan initiative uncovered “conclusive signs of abuse” against 134 female prisoners out of which 82 suffered sexual abuse in Faisalabad prison. Furthermore, due to the dearth of proper resources in prisons, authorities have failed to address women’s sanitary and menstruation needs.
In light of these deplorable conditions, the Prime Minister has recently announced the formation of a committee to analyse and investigate the many problems that female prisoners encounter within the justice system. Apart from enforcing the structural and institutional changes needed, the committee will also ensure gender-specific services for female prisoners in order to cope with their psychological, emotional and social needs. In the future, the committee will also deal with gender discrimination within society in a generalised context. While the initiative seems to be a small step in reforming the prison system, it is a giant leap in acknowledging the plight of women across the country. At the same time, however, the government should also ensure their successful re-entry into society post-release.


Fighting Covid — and mobs

A worrying number of violent attacks on healthcare workers treating Covid-19 coronavirus patients are occurring nationwide. Reports suggest that people have been forging papers to breach biosafety rules and collect the bodies of relatives who died of the virus. In these cases, it is because of lack of clarity on how burial rites would be performed. Unfortunately, influential clerics, who have the power to stop such incidents by educating people, refuse to intervene. Why these clerics are happy to let a deadly disease spread throughout society is beyond us. But what should not be beyond us, or the government, is that when push comes to shove, they need the appropriate shove. As for the attacks on healthcare workers, we have, for far too long, allowed people to get away with these. ‘They were just distraught’, influential people would say as they intervened to protect relatives of deceased people from punishment.
While we await the results of an inquiry ordered by the Sindh government into an attack on hospital staff in Karachi, we wonder what action will actually be taken against the attackers. After all, such attacks take place all over the country with frightening regularity. Worryingly, anecdotal evidence would suggest they have actually increased during the crisis. The only difference this time is that the people were claiming that Covid-19 is a scam. Otherwise, it was just another case of lawless people thinking their personal loss gives them the right to destroy public property. So what should be done with self-proclaimed medical experts who thrash doctors after receiving diagnoses they disagree with?
The fact of the matter is that healthcare workers literally spend their lives saving lives. When someone attacks a healthcare worker, they are not just endangering their victim, they are endangering all the people that healthcare worker could have treated. Attacks on hospitals are not simple acts of reckless behaviour or even rioting. They are acts of terrorism, and the state must prosecute them as such. But, given that the police have already failed to find over 20 suspects in the Civil Hospital attack at their homes, we have little confidence that any justice will be served.
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