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Malala: the voice of a society held hostage

Malala: the voice of a society held hostage

By: Talimand Khan

Along with another friend, I rushed to the Central Hospital in Saidu Sharif, Swat on receiving the shocking news of Malala being shot point blank in her head. Our first encounter was with the blood stained school van where Malala was shot and the driver rushed her in the same vehicle to the hospital. Ziauddin, Malala’s father, arrived after a while and was guided to an office of medical officer where some security officials were also present. Later he went to the operation theatre where Malala was undergoing initial medical investigation and treatment.
When Ziauddin came out along with the stretcher carrying Malala to airlift her to a military hospital in Peshawar, he stopped and said to us, “I was expecting they will come for me not for the child. Just don’t know what lies ahead. You people should be careful”.
By that time people had gathered in the hospital’s courtyard. Nobody in the crowd was sure whether the 14-year-old would survive or not. As the helicopter propelled her into air the next contemplation was where Ziauddin would prefer to bury Malala in case of her death, Mingowara or in his native village in Shangla.
Nearly two years later on December 10, 2014, Malala Yousafzai became the youngest Nobel laureate. Ironically, a certain mindset is still contesting the veracity of what happened on October 9, 2012, whether she was really shot or not and portray Malala’s role apparently fabricated by her father in collusion with western ulterior motives.
If I did not have insight into the struggle against Talibanisation, and had not reached the hospital ahead of Ziauddin to witness everything personally, perhaps, I too would have been swayed, like many others in this country, by the systematic campaign of disinformation.
The continuous audacity of absurdity mongers accentuates the hollowness and tunnel vision of our society that match perfectly with George Orwell’s. He imagined incisively in his famous novel ‘Ninety Eighty-Four’, how the truth had been mutilated and history distorted to tailor concocted narratives as genuine by invisible powers.
The charade goes on that the diaries Malala wrote for BBC were not genuine but only attributed to her; she was used by her father for his own motives; she is an agent of the west; what her achievements were; other victims of terrorism who remained anonymous; people of Swat do not own and support her, hence the mill churning out while forgetting the irrationality of what they had previously manufactured.
The initiative of writing a diary for the BBC Urdu blog was not Ziaduddin or Malala’s. After refusal by the first selected candidate on the basis of involving high risk, and in light of deliberations by a circle of friends and associates, who were raising alternate voices at the time, the responsibility was assigned to Malala whose selection was based on matching capability and courage (evident by her later interactions with the media and attending different forums since 2009) to undertake the role. She was not a passive child to be prodded by her father. Ziauddin as well as Malala were well aware of the risks but at the time it was the cause that mattered not the risk or reward.
Besides, Malala was not indifferent but was brought up in a home characterised by lack of resources and abundance of activism. Ziauddin, known for eloquent oratory, innocence and sincerity since his student life, would often willingly expose himself to be exploited by associates putting him on the front line in difficult circumstances. He was appointed to the most risky assignment as spokesperson of Swat Qaumi Jirga, which was the only platform for alternate voices formed in 2009.
As the dust began to settle and chances of her survival brightened, especially after she was shifted to the Queen Hospital in Birmingham amid the glaring media and world attention, it also brought a change back home toward her as well as Ziauddin.
Associates and supporters had fallen prey to a web of jealousy and the common person of Swat was terrorised by the shocking incident of such an attack on a child. The retrogressive forces, who already monopolised the narratives and means of dissemination, went overboard to spread venom against her. The influence and collusion of those forces was so thorough as to influence classroom discourse in schools and colleges as well as block the inauguration of Malala’s book by the Area Study Centre at the University of Peshawar and a resolution to felicitate and show solidarity towards Malala in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly.
One of the attempts is to paint Malala as a victim and her consequential global recognition compensation, gratuitously challenging her status as an injustice to other victims of Talibanisation and terrorism. A resignification is required to underscore that Malala was not a passive victim falling prey to a process of brutalisation, but wilfully challenged the savagery reposing potential to deplete every sign of civilisation. Malala’s erroneously constructed windfall is not a compensation of what happened to her on October 9, 2012 but a recognition of her valour against the dark forces working ceaselessly to increase the list of victims.
Before the attack on Malala, assassination attempts were made on the traditionally powerful in Swat in 2007. Though the people of Swat exhibited support for these people – who could save Swat at the time – instead these powerful people caved in, pretending to have no animosity with the Taliban. Later these very people urged others to join the Village Defence Committees to take up arms against the Taliban. Unfortunately, the same coterie is currently canvassing for construction of cantonment in Swat.
After receiving the Nobel Prize, the discourse diverted mostly to – informed by our collective socio-political patronage mentality which cannot look beyond tangible materials – what she can and what she should do at the cost of what she had already achieved for the people.
To reprise the words of the perpetrators who shot her in the head: “She was a child but her words were severer than sword and dangerous.” She reversed the tide of rampant militancy, became the voice of a society held hostage, shattered the misleading narratives about Pakhtuns and causes of militancy and terrorism, helped the anti-climax of terrorism and, most importantly, exposed the umbilical cord of the faceless Taliban along with their supporters and apologists in the streets to the parliament. Not least was how significantly it changed perception about women’s education in Swat while globally propelling the cause of education.
The lack of street jubilation for Malala in Swat has been seen as people’s indifference towards her. What needs to be understood is that Swat’s peace is a tenuous state constraining people to express views without fear or retribution. It is more or less a militarised peace where only the security forces enjoy unequivocal security with the civilians remaining potentially vulnerable to be targeted by the terrorists.
The restrained behaviour can be interpreted in a social context characterised by an apparently simple but intrinsically complex Pakhtun society that operates within the blurred boundaries of jealousy and generosity. Moving beyond social hierarchy, nearly everyone considers themselves second to none and are prone to declaring war while hiding love. Pakhtuns neither disown nor hate Malala. For the world she is a laureate but for Pakhtuns, particularly from Swat, she is a daughter and Pakhtuns never disown daughters. They are proud of her struggle, as they are of our friend Ziauddin whose courage was not secondary to his daughter’s.
The writer is a researcher and anative of Swat.
Email: talimand.khan@gmail.com Twitter: @talimandkhan1
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