Man since antiquity has appealed to the idea of justice when confronted with unfairness and discrimination, and primarily in destitute above all. Nonetheless, the unfortunate dilemma stays the timing of this realisation and resort. The appeal to justice is not restricted to any individual aspect of life. Instead, it spreads across almost every domain of human existence. Social justice embodies highly essential elements including the equitable distribution of wealth, opportunities, rights and freedoms within society. And fair enough, the lacunae in the implementation of social justice regime result in unsolicited repercussions for nations.

The outbreak of COVID-19 has generated an insightful social recognition of the origins and aftermaths of social inequalities. The circumstances have vested policymakers with an explicit obligation to take the belvedere of an impartial spectator. Here comes relevant Rawls idea of “Veil of ignorance.” It says that for laws to be just, the creators need to consider themselves behind the veil of ignorance where they know nothing about themselves in terms of class, sex, age etc. Consequently, the formulators of the policy paradigms must realise that their policies have a profound effect on everyone else. And the present crisis is enough to get them to ponder deep over their direction for the future. It is undoubtedly a reawakening call for the practitioners of the uneven development models.

Today it goes without saying how essential a well-equipped and capable public health care system is considering the COVID-19 outbreak. There is dearth of adequate isolation centres, ventilators, personal protection equipment (PPE) and other emergency facilities across hospitals in the country. The situation is unveiling the naked reality of how the haves and haves-not stand equally needy and vulnerable for that matter, as far as survival in medical facet is concerned. As Pankaj Mishra, one of the most influential essayists today, rightly says, “It has taken a disaster for the state to assume its original responsibility to protect citizens.” Healthcare positions to be the first and front-runner unit among other state entities with their essentialities and efficacies in this struggle. Thus a response that is equitable and accessible to all is critical.

For Pakistan, the tragedy is that it is busy fighting a multidimensional war. The country’s fight is not just against coronavirus. It’s also against ignorance and the ensuing stubbornness, which makes the picture highly disconsolate and disappointing. It is not to say that there aren’t examples of educated ones behaving in the worst manners. However, widely held noncompliances find roots in uninformed practices. Such problematic behaviour of people depicts a connection with illiteracy. Had education been prioritised regardless of class and creed, the conditions would have found us better placed in the uncertain times like the present ones. Alike harsh realities are mocking and slapping us now and then, for better. Alas, the majority is still in the fallacy of “not me,” “can’t be me.”

Additionally, making a natural calamity even worse, the wickedest of hoarding practices are being witnessed. Sale of safety items in the black market with exorbitant prices has become a common practice. Visibly, this has hit the poor miserably, making them further helpless. Extensively planned efforts and strict enforcement mechanisms are required to cover the indicated part of social security for providing relief in an uncertain environment. The concerned authorities have an increased responsibility in this regard. The carrot and stick approach is compulsory for ensuring across-the-board conformity with policies.

The state has the primary responsibility to safeguard the deprived against these unbearable circumstances. As a remedial measure, the overall enhancement of the state’s capacity is the need of the hour. For nothing but the government remains the ultimate recourse of the people in such distressful times. Individuals across the globe demand theirs to be a welfare state, for it is expected to assume an extended role – being an entity providing almost every necessity. It has to evolve itself according to the changing economic and political order — the one inaugurated by the coronavirus. Colossal upgradation of public services is the take-home lesson from such pandemics. Upgradation, coupled with entrée to all is the way forward. Otherwise, the unjust settings themselves will keep us daunted in ways undefined.

As a society, it is high time we adhere to the principles of reason, justice, and welfare, as they comprise the collective heritage of humanity. Nobel Laureate economist Amartya Sen argues, “The theory of justice must be more concerned with the elimination of removable injustices rather than defining a perfectly just society.” More injustice and inequality implies more disaster. The gravity of the situation stresses upon it to be taken in form and substance. Finding peace and comfort with deprivation in the surrounding is the tragedy of those living in fool’s paradise. We are required to consider and reconsider social arrangements to assess their bearing in comprehensive footings. Undeniably, it is a gradual process, but cannot be further delayed. Therefore, the fight for justice has to set in before it’s too late. Societies who negotiate the fact timely receive the dividends and those similar to us bite the dust, excruciatingly!

Muhammad Azhar Khan

The author holds a degree in Economics from LUMS and is a serving Civil Servant.