Covid-19 and cultural change


Nasira Jabeen

People cannot endure restrictions even in hard times of a pandemic when they are needed to behave not only cautiously but with stark seriousness and maturity. They have rarely followed what is against their will and culture.

The contemporary manners in the wake of the lately emerged coronavirus is no less flouting. Since the novel virus emergency in early March this year in Pakistan, differing behaviors and views surfaced after the government’s order of lockdown and observance of precautionary measures to contain the spread of the virus.

In the start, people welcomed the home confinement as they thought it the best sanctuary where they could be refuged from being affected.

“In normal times, mobility and outdoor activities are important, but during a virulent disease, these are irrelevant,” they maintained. But by degrees the majority grew exhausted with the serious limitations on movement and suspension of their daily life. Some, as with ‘what cannot be cured, must be endured’, accepted the new mode of life imposed by the government.

The educated and more concerned ones still contentedly continue with the limitation of freedom and only carefully leave their houses, avoiding any meeting, under the fear of being infected.

The third group threw the government’s order of social distancing into disarray. From the beginning of the lock-up to its partial release, they moved unmasked, loitered, arranged and attended matrimonial functions even.

To these people, coronavirus is nothing more than a “normal flu and very few patients require intensive treatment, while most of the cases get well in the course,” they argue.

“Hundreds of people die from other diseases and from accidents on a daily basis. The media and the authorities, therefore, need not to spread a state of panic”. Yet another group defends their rebellion by citing other conspiracy theories.

But no other cause better dictates the behavior of these masses of people than the reluctance to cultural change. They cannot easily bring themselves to forsake the long-held customs and habits.  A mother (especially uneducated) may wait for the quarantine period of her recently travelled son to be over but she can’t maintain the required distance from him or from other family members, who, out of need, visit local bazaar, hospital, … till very later.  As a matter of fact, she is not accustomed to such practices of caution, neither can she acquire them happily. A hitherto unknown situation has struck her like a bolt from the blue. And she is uncertain to the brim as to how would she behave.

Lo and behold! Now the prolonged duration of the pandemic has worn out her initial dreadfulness of it. Like in the year before, she meets, embraces relatives, pays visits, talks in close proximity. The menfolk too are no exception.

You behave reservedly with such party, and the ensuing mess would be your own handwork. “With such ‘polished acts’ they are not familiar with”. “What is there, that has clung to them”. “They are the healthy, the protected ones”. “A vain and affected attitude”.

From the context of rural settings in Pakistan (to an extent in cities too) coronavirus has almost become a threadbare term. The far too powerful compulsion of keeping up a very hygienic life exists only faintly now. Soiled hands, linens… do not give awe of the same intensity as earlier.

It is difficult to part with the cultural values is evident from the fact that even the strictly cautious people forget the caution in the course and meet only to repent shortly. Cultural values must be compromised with for safety and survival sake.

That this is the most challenging time, there is no doubt. Contagion, and the dread of the contagion, the economic backlash for the country, the joblessness, educational loss, future concerns, discriminations, frustrations, cultural change,… all have downpoured on us this last of the decade. And this high time that we should accept the harsh challenges and behave maturely and responsibly.

We need to educate the non-serious and the non-believers and mold our behaviors into new behavioral paradigms.

What interest a government could have in locking-up the whole machinery of its being? What pleasure could be there in provoking a ‘state of exception’ with country’s economy at stake?

Nothing! Governments merely act according to the spread of the virus and as long as people conform to their acts, the virus can be contained. otherwise, it is a virus against which there is no vaccine made yet, it can cause further destruction.

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