By: Omer Farooq Khan
ISLAMABAD: The Nobel laureate, Malala Yousafzai, has won the hearts of millions of people across the world but has become a highly controversial figure in her own country.
Her critics have dubbed her as anti-Pakistan. They accuse her father, who runs a chain of schools in Swat, of misusing his daughter for money and fame. Her critics are no longer confined to Swat valley alone, but are growing and can be found in every village, town and city of Pakistan.
New conspiracy theories are emerging in her hometown apparently in a bid to malign her. Several families living near Malala’s school complained that her father had increased fee after his daughter became a prominent international figure after being shot by Taliban in forehead in October 2012. Many people in Swat believe that attack on Malala was part of an international conspiracy planned by the West. Some said that her relatives and not Taliban attacked her.
“Malala was engaged in childhood to one of her cousins. After earning fame, her family wanted to end her engagement and it seems that she may have been attacked by her relatives,” said a resident of Mingora town, requesting anonymity.
The ongoing propaganda has deeply shocked her family and friends in Mingora.
“This is rubbish. I know Malala’s father from very close. He is an enlightened person and cannot even think of engaging his daughter in childhood,” said Attaullah Yousufzai, a journalist and friend of Malala’s father. “If any such thing had ever happened, it would have surfaced much earlier,” he added.
Iqbal Hussain, administrator of Khushhal Public School where Malala studied, said that it’s useless to convince those who think irrationally.
“We have established ‘Malala foundation’ in every school. The programme offers free education for top and poor students. As the issue of tuition fee is concerned so it is minimum as compared to other private schools,” Hussain said.
Her book, “I am Malala”, also faces intense criticism in her hometown with some even calling it blasphemous. The funny thing was that none of the critics that spoke to Daily Times have read the book with a few of them knowing its name.
Her admirers, unfortunately, find it difficult to defend her cause. What went wrong that a youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize laureate in the world became so unpopular in her own country?
Some observers believe that those who condemn and criticise her in Pakistan belong to a school of thought that does not support liberal female education and emancipation of women.
“Mentally, most of the country is still trapped in medieval age mindset. They do not have exposure to modern enlightened ideas and they live in the past. We need to change our mindsets and acknowledge Malala as one of our own and give her credit for what she has done for Pakistan in this day and age. She has done something, which many leading Pakistani leaders have not been able to do,” said Asad Khan, an observer.
Ismat Shahajahan, an Islamabad-based social and political activist, believed that the sheer force of Malala’s struggle has hit the centre of the patriarchal narrative of the right wing and the state, thus their immense resistance towards her.
“The establishments’ spokesmen, right-wing journalists, political parties and large section of middle-class intelligentsia are at ease with tens of thousands of Taliban challenging everything consensual and civilized but are against a 17-year-old girl upholding the cause of girls education sanctified by their religion and Pakistan constitution,” Ismat said.
She stressed that the gains of Malala’s struggle needed to be guarded by progressive and liberal forces from the attack of the right-wing political parties, media and the state.
Mona Naseer, a London-based rights activist of Pakistani origin, said that Malala’s condemnation, as a winner of Nobel peace prize, from a certain section of society had not surprised her at all.
“Malala has not only challenged the very ethos of Pakistani patriarchal mindset but has also dealt a serious blow to the well-entrenched narrative of Pashtun as ethnic race synonymous with Taliban and other extremist forces,” she said. “Well done Malala! I am proud of you for challenging our masculine culture.”