“I hope this is all over soon.” This is what my mother’s friend said to her during one of the many checking-in and catching-up phone calls that have become so common in the time of corona. My mother’s friend, like us, and unlike that vast majority of our fellow Pakistanis, has a comfortable house in which she can spend her quarantine days without running out of food any time in the foreseeable future. “I just hope things go back to normal soon.”
I do not hope that soon, as per normal, all of the privileged households in this city have their domestic servants back so that they can cook, clean, and serve in exchange for a meagre wage, zero job security, no paid sick leave, and no access to justice in the likely event that they are abused or harassed at work. I do not hope that I will employ yet another part-time maid who depends upon my hand-me-downs to keep herself and her children warmly clothed in winter.
I do not hope that the air quality of Lahore goes back up to 300 and higher when thousands of private cars flood the roads due to the absence of a strong public transport system. I do not hope that fleets of chauffeured cars start once again to clog up roads every morning and every afternoon because private schools and the parents who pay tuition to them believe that a school bus is beneath them. I do not hope that privileged Lahoris continue to buy, on average, 3000 more cars every month. I do not hope the provincial government continues its attempt to accommodate the ever-swelling volume of traffic by widening roads and building flyovers where trees used to be.
I do not hope that the aforementioned schools continue to provide an overpriced education to a small minority while 63% of this country’s children are out of school.
I do not hope that 13 million of Pakistan’s children return to work in affluent homes, in brick kilns, in fields, in factories, and in coal mines.
I do not even hope that the cancelled CIEs resume. I do not hope we continue to force our students to spend years preparing to take a two hour exam in an outdated system that rewards memory more than it measures intelligence. I do not hope we continue to pay a foreign organisation exorbitant amounts of money to give our children grades that do not reflect their capabilities in any meaningful manner and yet immensely influence their future.
‘Do you eat the pink ones last_’ by Kashif Shahbaz @kashifshahbazm a video displayed at A site for sight 2020
I do not hope that the millions of Pakistani women who are currently trapped in their homes with their abusers, leading to an increase in domestic violence since the lockdown began, continue to be most unsafe in the only place they can call home.
I do not hope that daily wage labourers go back to earning, on average, 700 rupees a day. I do not hope that a huge segment of our citizens continue to live such financially precarious lives that our Prime Minister worries that they will starve within weeks if he enforces a necessary lockdown during a pandemic.
It is April as I write this. Do you know what this month would have normally looked like for me and for hundreds of other women? It would have looked like endless screenshots on my social media accompanied with pleas for help in reporting, blocking, outing, or engaging with cyber-harassment, rape threats, death threats and obscenities as the vitriolic backlash against the Aurat March continued into its second month. It would have looked like photographs of women who attended the march, doctored into pornographic images. It would have looked like more screen-time granted to Khalil-ur-Rehman to verbally abuse a woman on national television. It would have looked like feminist activists and organisers being invited onto talk shows only to be shouted down, strawmanned, gaslighted and mocked by the Mandatory Misogynist invited to have a “dialogue” with them. It would have looked like an entire nation still outraged at the idea of mera jism, meri marzi.
This is not to say that I would exchange that April for this one. I would not; nor would any sane person. It is merely to say that the only thing that can apparently distract men from punishing women for attempting to claim their basic human rights, is the End of The World as We Know It.
It is to say that a desire to return to “normal” is both an immense failure of imagination and a deeply callous sentiment. It is to trade unfamiliar suffering for familiar suffering. It is to say that millions of people living hand to mouth in your country is not only acceptable, but natural. It is to look at a system that has been stripped bare to reveal its brutality, ugliness, and inefficacy, and politely asking that that system merely put its clothes back on while we cover our eyes.
I wrote a poem three years ago, titled “The Case for A World on Fire”. This is the last line of the last stanza:
“they tell me my anger will burn the world down
So what? …
most days, the world is nothing worth keeping
it is nothing that we cannot rebuild.”