Coronavirus and the youth

April 06, 2020

In the fight against the coronavirus, everyone is wondering about what role each segment of society can play. If we just talk about the youth in Pakistan, they can play multiple roles during and...

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In the fight against the coronavirus, everyone is wondering about what role each segment of society can play. If we just talk about the youth in Pakistan, they can play multiple roles during and after this crisis. Such roles can be varied – from economic and personal to political and social.

Individually, every young person should first of all try to keep herself or himself protected against the virus. If they themselves are not safe, they can hardly do anything for somebody else, especially for the elderly within their families and communities. All youth must follow as many safety precautions as possible, including washing their hands regularly and keeping a safe physical distance from others.

Then comes the importance of avoiding all congregations and shunning gatherings, including for prayers. Now even the most sacred places of worship such as the holiest churches and mosques, shrines, synagogues, and temples have been shut for the people.

In this situation, the youth should avoid going to mosques and also try to persuade the elderly not to do so. The edict (fatwa) by Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt is a useful guide. Many of our religious leaders and scholars have also suggested that people should pray at home rather than attending prayer congregations. All those who are advising against this sensible suggestion are not our well-wishers and are trying to put our entire society in a serious danger. The youth should be cautious of such people because it is of the utmost importance to save lives.

We have observed that even under this lockdown, the youth in many localities have come out to play football or cricket right on the streets. This adventure must be discouraged because by doing so they are not only putting their own lives in danger but also placing unnecessary strain on their families. Now, the question: is if the youth sit at home, what can they do? First, this is the best time to catch up on your reading by going through some good books. The books that perhaps you bought long ago but were unable to begin or finish, are waiting for you on shelves; dust them out and read them.

If, sadly, you don’t have any books, there is a lot available to read on the internet. Read something that increases your comprehension of society. Even in Urdu there are hundreds of free books available on the Rekhta website; explore it. Most of the top poets and writers of Urdu have been uploaded and their poetry and prose can be a good pastime for you. Then, you may also read English and Urdu newspapers on the net. Some of the columnists you must regularly read in Urdu include Ammar Masud, Ayub Malik, Azaz Sayed, Bilal Ghouri, Hamid Mir, Hasan Mujtaba, Kishwar Naheed, Saleem Safi, Tauseef Ahmed Khan, Wajahat Masood, Wusatullah Khan, Yasir Pirzada, and Zaheda Hina.

My suggested list of English columnists includes Abdul Sattar, Afrasiab Khattak, Ammar Ali Jan, Amir Hussain, Amir Rana, Asim Sajjad, Babar Sattar, Pervaiz Hoodbhoy, Farhatullah Babar, Harris Khalique, I A Rehman, Musharraf Zaidi, Raza Rumi, and Zaigham Khan. I would also recommend our youth to read all the writings of Ahmed Saleem, Ali Abbas Jalalpuri, Arshad Mahmood, Ashfaque Saleem Mirza, Dr Jaffar Ahmed, Dr Mubarak Ali, Syed Sibte Hasan, and Zaheda Hina. In English non-fiction books: Akbar Zaidi’s ‘Issues in Pakistan Economy’, Arundhati Roy, Bertrand Russel, Christopher Hitchens, Jawaharlal Nehru, Noam Chomsky, Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking, and William Darlymple are a must to broaden your horizon of thinking.

There are also some free but useful online courses on nearly everything under the sun. This was all for the youth individually; now how about socially? If you belong to a well-heeled family, helping the needy is a worthwhile task. But while doing so all safety precautions against the infection of coronavirus must be taken. You can help the needy by giving away food items or discarding your old clothes. There are a lot of daily-wage earners who are now out of work and can’t even feed themselves and their families. They are waiting for somebody to help them; please see for yourself and decide what you can do.

If you can’t help anyone financially, there is the cleanliness issue in and around your homes. Cleanliness is one of the basic preventions against spreading diseases. Sanitary workers are the most neglected and unappreciated workers in our society. The youth can do a lot by helping and supporting them in their work, and by giving them something to eat or wear. Many sanitary workers don’t even get drinking water from homes where they work. They are the ones who play a crucial role in disease prevention, so our youth would do better by taking care of them, as they put their own lives at stake to protect us and keep our streets clean.

Similarly, there are police force members and volunteers of charity organizations such as the Edhi Foundation. They also need our help and support, but again while doing all this keep yourself protected against the virus by wearing gloves and masks. As we know, this virus is more lethal to those who are suffering from other diseases such as cancer, diabetes, heart problems, liver diseases, or renal complications. Such people must be forced to stay home. If you or anyone in your family is addicted to smoking, this is the best time to get rid of the addiction.

Smoking drastically reduces your immunity and you become vulnerable to virus attacks. While fighting against corona, good immunity is your best or perhaps the only defence, as yet there is no cure to the virus yet. Politically speaking, the youth of today can hold the politicians in their area accountable who are not helping the needy in their constituencies. The youth must force the politicians to arrange for cleanliness drives in their areas including at clinics and hospitals. If there is no government clinic or hospital nearby, or if they are in poor conditions, the youth must ask their public representatives about why this is so.

Again, politically speaking, the youth should be asking the incumbent government what it has done for the people while it has been in power, apart from raising inflation and borrowing for loans. It is the right of our youth to question why our society is being run the way it is, whereby common people are neither getting good education nor benefiting from health facilities. The question must be raised that if there was corruption amounting to billions of rupees for 70 years, where are those billions saved in the past two years?

We were told that in this country every day billions of rupees were siphoned off; if that was true where are those billions that were saved in the past two years? Why have the representatives of the federal government disappeared from the war front against corona? Where are the likes of Azam Swati, Faisal Vawda, Jahangir Tareen, and Murad Saeed? Why is their personal wealth of billions not being used to provide succour to the nation in this crisis? The youth must hold these people accountable who haven’t done anything in the past two years and are even now doing nothing against coronavirus.

Finally, there are lessons for the youth in this pestilence. Now they can change their pattern of thinking by not listening to fake scholars and by adopting scientific thinking. This pandemic has once again proved that diseases and health problems don’t go away by chanting abracadabra and reciting hocus-pocus. We need scientific research to counter these. Those who ask you to invoke spirits and repeat incantations actually deprive you of your rational thinking. The youth of the 21st century need rational and scientific thinking rather than centuries-old black magic or hanky-panky.

The youth must understand that our true enemies are backwardness, disease, ignorance, illiteracy, poverty, and unemployment. They must ask why our resources are not being utilized to fight these enemies. Will we keep wasting our resources in preparation against imaginary enemies and wars as we have been doing for over 70 years? Will we ever be ready to fight against disease without begging and borrowing? Today’s youth must start reading and thinking, without which they can’t play any role to change this society.


The writer holds a PhD from the University of Birmingham, UK and works in Islamabad.

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