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Fearful parents stop sending girls to schools in Ittehad Town

Fearful parents stop sending girls to schools in Ittehad Town

By: SAHER BALOCH

KARACHI: Six months after undergoing a series of operations, Mian Syed Wahid, 65, is recovering and is now able to sit properly.

He was among the many people inside The Nation Secondary School that came under attack on March 30 this year.

Situated in Ittehad Town, a prize distribution ceremony was under way in the school when one after the other three hand grenades were lobbed at the school by armed men, followed by shooting.

While principal of the school Rasheed Ahmed died on his way to hospital, chief guest Wahid, who got hit by a bullet near his kidney, underwent two operations and a surgery and survived.

Besides the principal, a grade four student, 10-year-old Tahira Noor, also succumbed to her injuries. “Twelve people were injured in the attack,” said Mohammad Ali, an eyewitness.

Six months later the school continues to run, with children from nearby neighbourhoods filling the classrooms. But the major difference this time around is that there are fewer girls in attendance.

Sitting in a hunched position, in an open veranda of an Awami National Party (ANP) office in the area, Wahid speaks slowly about what happened. “Rasheed [the deceased principal] was receiving extortion chits from some criminals. I told him not to mess with them, but he didn’t listen and sought help from the authorities. A couple of days later this incident occurred,” he said.

A close friend of Rasheed’s, Wahid was the only person who spoke against arranging a prize distribution ceremony. “I thought it was too risky considering the kind of threats Rasheed was receiving. But he insisted upon the ceremony arguing that schoolchildren looked forward to such events and he didn’t want to disappoint them,” he adds quietly.

A predominantly Pakhtun locality, a huge chunk of the population hails from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), with small pockets of Baloch and Urdu-speaking neighbourhoods, Ittehad Town is considered to be infested with militants. Initial reports that came after the attack on the school also suggested the same. But the school administration completely refuted it.

Wahid, however, believes that, some “criminal elements” might be using the name of militants to extort money, adding that militants did have a presence in Ittehad Town. “From what we know, there are two factions active in our part of the town: Mehsuds and Kandaharis.

They operate openly in this area, with the police completely powerless to stop them. Also, small-time crooks use their name to instill fear among the people.”

SSP-West Irfan Baloch repeated what Wahid said, claiming that the ongoing operation in the city had “somewhat weakened their presence”.

He however refused to comment further on the attack or the arrests made afterwards, adding that he had recently joined service and was not updated on the matter.

Calling himself a social and political worker, Wahid has been running an institute for the past 20 years which is named the Mazdoor Welfare Jirga in the Frontier Colony, near Banaras. Over 400 students come from nearby and often far off areas of Karachi and study at the institute for free. “Our job is to impart education so that our children can get out of these areas and create a life for themselves.”

The locality had its celebrity moment, last year, when teen education activist Malala Yousafzai, visited in March. With child-like happiness, Wahid narrates the story of Malala’s visit. Wahid’s older son, who is on crutches after an accident last year, emailed Malala congratulating her on winning a national award, adding that: “I would have congratulated you personally, but I’m on crutches.” To which Malala replied, “But I’m not.” A few days later she visited Ittehad Town with her father.

Speaking about the 16-year-old with immense pride, Wahid said that, “We need children like her, who can teach and inspire even their elders to fight for what they believe in.”

But many parents in Ittehad Town do not see the issue in a similar manner. Attaur Rehman, the principal of a school named Iqbal Academy, said that, “Since the incident, I lost nearly 50 per cent of my students that mainly included girls. Their parents stopped sending them to schools.”

He adds that there is an apparent calm in Ittehad Town because of the ongoing operation. “But before the operation gets over, we are aiming to bring all the girl students back to school. At least we can try.”

Wahid said that, “At present, we are facing what we started years ago during the Afghan War in the 1980s. Until we go after such people, this menace is not going to leave us very soon.”

DAWN

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