By: Burkhia Changezi

Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan province is a home of diverse ethnic, religious, and cultural communities,including Pashtoons, Baloch, Pubjabi, Hazara Shia, Christians and others. On faith grounds, Hazara Shia are the ones who are in quite a large number in Quetta city, besides some other small pockets of their population also live in Sibi and Zhob districts.

According to Hazara themselves, their population in Quetta is over 500,000, mostly living in towns Mariabad and Hazara Town. The government claims figures are much less than that.

Syed Nazdana, a student of BS International Relations from BUITEMS University told she lost her father duringCovid-19 pandemic despite following all Standard Operation Procedures (SOPs) such as wearing mask, keeping six feet distance, using sanitizers. She went into depression and thought that they might never get back to their normal routine. “However, when the government announced the vaccination program, her entire family immediately got vaccinated without paying any heed to what people had been spreading about it,” she shares her experience.

During early onset of Covid-19,everyone was scared, majorly due to the virus’s contagiousness and deadly nature. In Pakistan, the media’s sensational coverage also did the damage. Itwas the time, when Hazara and other Shia pilgrims had been returning from Iran and Iraq. People started associating its spread with Hazara pilgrims who had returned from Iran and Iraq. On social media, people also named it as Shia virus.

Where the population largely believed in this notion, the government officials had the same reaction towards Hazara community and urged them to stop coming to their offices or restrict their movements to homes.

Karar Hussain, a resident of Alamdar Road Mariabad says that misinformation, circulating on social media, more specifically on Facebook against vaccination created a fear in his mind too.“People had been spreading all sorts of news about the grave side effects of the vaccine”, he shares, adding that he got sick for two days after receiving his first dose. It further strengthened his fear, but the symptoms dissipated gradually, and all was fine afterwards.

He further stated that being a Shia or Hazara, he did not see any case of discrimination during the process of vaccination.

“After getting fully vaccinated, all my fears and uncertainties were proven wrong and now I encourage everyone in my circle and family to get vaccinated,” Karar says.

In February 2021, the government introduced vaccines for the citizens, but there was a state of uncertainty among the people towards vaccines. It was mainly due to opinion leaders of different religious sects, who resisted and forced their followers, not to get vaccinated. This narrative was pushed on social media as campaign that resulted in fear about the vaccine. 

After months of lock-down, bans on traveling and other measures the government introduced, it also made the vaccination mandatory and pushed the citizens to get vaccinated as soon as possible to normalize their lives.

Hazaras like everyone else also got started receiving their vaccination keeping apprehensions in minds. In Mariabad and Hazara Towns, the government set up vaccination centers at different Imam Bargahs, mosques, health centers, hospitals, and vans. According to vaccination program focal person Mumtaz Ali at Mohtarma Banazir Bhutto Shaheed Hospital in Mariabad, more than 100,000 Hazara community people has been fully vaccinated as of now, while 25,000 more yet to receive their second dose.

Mumtaz also informed, “There are other hospitals and vaccination centers as well where Hazara have easy access to vaccination”.

Syma Ali Hussain, a housewife living in Hazara Town told that after months of lock-down and staying at home when vaccines were made available for public, she forced everyone in her family to get their vaccines done, so that they could go back to normal routine. “I also encountered misleading information; however, I disregarded these rumors and preferred to receive vaccine,” Syma shares.