Mariam Hassan Naqvi
Few days ago, a female SHO was attacked by a religious mob in Karachi while she was trying to abstain them from offering the Friday prayer which was banned by the provincial government as a precaution of COVID-19. Armed officers on duty has been seen facing some opposition from different religious and social groups, although these measures and protocols have been applied for their own safety.
The psychological interpretation of this aversion traces back to the history of the power dynamics in the country. Force, in form of violence has been used as a weapon to suppress the public agency instead of a healthy dialogue between the ruler and the ruled. With the passage of time these repetitive actions, submissive directions, and hegemonic structures became familiar to the mind of the people, i.e. the enforcement of restricted movement by the armed forces of the state. A slight dislocation from these familiar actions is not easily absorbed by social cognition and as a result, it creates alienation from the proposed action. After a continuous cycle of the use of force for delivering the state’s narrative, the people of the state are also conditioned to submit their will only after the application of power from the state institutions. Therefore a healthy relationship of understanding between the ruling power and citizens of the state diminishes under the sand of the country’s power dynamics. Meanwhile, the breaching of lockdown is another product of this conditioned public behavior where personal safety would also be observed only after developing fear from the enforcement of the state’s power.
Religion on the other side is another social institution but it enjoys a hegemonic power in our country due to its institutionalization in the state’s affair. Since the independence of Pakistan religion has been used as a tool to propagate the state narrative and interests in order to give it an unquestionable and sacred position in society. Armed and civilian forces legitimized their power based on religious discourses by incorporating them not only in the state’s affairs of legislation and foreign pursuits but also using the force of religious institutionalization in the cultural fabric of the country. Continuous repetition of discourse becomes reality in the understanding of the subjects or citizens eventually reiteration of religious manifestation of the state became the standard of piety in our country that further manifests personal relationships. As a result of this wedlock of state and religion, the difference between culture and religion has been diminished and the later above all enjoys the most powerful position in the society.
However, the current situation of the country due to pandemic not only restricts the social movement of the citizens in “home and four walls” without gender discrimination but it also reduces the performance of collective religious duties from worship places to the personal offerings of prayers at home. This concept of religion as a personal matter is also not conditioned in the collective behavioral pattern of the society because religion was treated as a collective institution supported by the state’s narrative. The independence of individuals in religious matters can also snatch the amenity of clerics who works from the center of the stage. So this time the enforcement of state itself over the restriction of religious offerings beside other businesses which endangers the economic prosperity of the clerics, on the other side it also establishes a precedent of reducing their power and hegemonic roles over the social affairs of their communities. Therefore, the agitation towards this decision has been seen more vigorously and violently in different areas of the country by portraying it as an attack towards the sacred religious duties.
The virus, however, is somehow relocating the ideological apparatuses and foreign affairs of the states, behavioral patterns of societies and personal relations of the people which may unpack the structural binaries of power relations in the future. Let’s see if the social fabric of Pakistan can also deconstruct these enforced discourses or maybe not.