Archive | October, 2014

Voice of Peace

13 Oct

A precious child
When she was born in 1997 Malala’s father believed he was blest to have to bring up and nurture an innocent angel. Little did he realize that she was more than a little jewel that would sparkle in dark and difficult times. Indeed the 12th July, the day she was born, was memorable in more ways than one for her father, a school teacher (and later a head teacher) who believed in the potential that this beautiful girl born into his family could bring to a developing world. Perhaps it was his poetic and parental instincts that believed that his precious one would sail through life unscathed. Poets can be naive but the rude awakening he faced would soon throw him in at the deep end. He had to quickly put on his thinking cap and his protective gear to come out to strengthen and support his daughter when she needed it most.

His daughter’s early years went by almost without incident. But dark clouds that had been floating over for sometime soon engulfed her, her family and the community around almost with volcanic ferocity when she was barely 10 years old. The picturesque mountains which Malala Yosafzai called home soon became the explosive operating zone for a fundamentalist group that believed it was their right to control and colonize people’s rights and freedoms. The group first came on the scene with messages that people would believe: those of hope, of peace and of religious beliefs. Gradually their preaching in this Swat valley in Pakistan took on the form of mild cautions and very soon they became instructions that would affect the lives of hundreds of people who had lived in peace and harmony for decades.

Facing local trouble
Soon it got more serious than the village elders could handle when the terrorist group turned dominant to show they had clout. It would seem that most of their warnings were directed at women’s role in society. One could perhaps assume that this male-dominated, gun-wielding minority felt threatened by the organized intelligence of their female counterparts. They felt they had to assume brutal control and it wasn’t long before women were ordered to cover their heads, and later their faces. Then women were not allowed to go out shopping on their own. Soon it got more stringent when girls were not allowed to get educated. They quoted religious texts to impose their restrictions, and used their unchallenged armed authority to intimidate the population. In some cases they got rid of protesters and those who stood in their way. In one word, they brought in a regime of fear!

The serene surroundings in which Malala had been brought up did not even remotely suggest that there could have been any fighting spirit in our Pakistani Joan of Arc. Yet though only 11 Malala decided that this group would not stop her or her mates from attending school. She soon had the girls of her village and of the surrounding area rallying round her to keep going to school as they had always been doing. Soon organizations like the BBC got interested in her fight for education, and at just 12 years of age helped her to start a blog where she described the activities of this extremist group that was hell-bent on banning girls from education. This brought her international attention.

Our 12-year-old Malala took up the challenge and began speaking out on behalf of 57 million children around the world who are unable to attend school. In 2011 she was given Pakistan’s National Peace Award for Youth. Accepting the honour, she made it clear that she was not a member of any political party but hoped to found, at some time in the future, a national party of her own to promote education. A secondary school was named in her honour. In 2012, at just 15, she made plans to create the Malala Education Foundation, to help poor girls attend school.

Campaign for Children’s rights
For nearly four years Malala continued her campaign to support the rights of children and of women, and it was quite surprising that she had been allowed to get on with her work as the terrorist group had attacked men and even women but had not touched children. But on October 9, 2012, when she was just 15, a young gunman from the extremist group shot her at point blank range as she rode home on a bus after taking an exam. The bullet that went through her head and neck, lodged in her shoulder near her spinal cord. Surgeons at a military hospital in Pakistan removed the bullet but her life still hung in the balance. She had to be air-lifted to Birmingham in the UK for further life-saving treatment. A five-hour operation on February 2, 2013 reconstructed her skull and restored her hearing. The extremist group who seemed thwarted in their purposes didn’t seem to have given up on their vicious plans and were on record to have said, “If we found her again, we would know how to deal with her.

On July 12, 2013, her sixteenth birthday, barely six months after her attack, she made her first public speech. Appearing at the United Nations, she said, “The terrorists thought they would change my aims and stop my ambitions, but nothing changed in my life. Weakness, fear and hopelessness died.
Strength, power and courage were born.”

International recognition
Malala has been named one of Time magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World.” Her autobiography, I Am Malala, was released in October 2013 to coincide with the one-year anniversary of her shooting. Even though she did not get the prestigious award, she was the youngest nominee in history for the Nobel Peace Prize, in 2013. On Thursday, 10th October 2013, she was named the winner of the EU’s Sakharov prize, which is considered Europe’s top human rights accolade. Earlier on 27th September, 2013, she was awarded the Harvard Humanitarian award.

When asked why she would risk her life, she said, “Why should I wait for someone else? Why should I be looking to the government or the army, that they would help us? Why don’t I raise my voice? Why don’t we speak up for our rights?” She challenged the UN: “Let us pick up our books and pens. They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world.”

Former First Lady (of USA) Laura Bush has compared Malala to Anne Frank, who wrote: “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” Malala is indeed today’s inspiration to young people to stand up to dominant forces that can harm or cripple genuine development.

Nobel Peace Award
The 2014 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded jointly to Malala Yousafzai, from Pakistan, and to Kailash Satyarthi, from India, for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people for the right of all children to education. Only 15 women have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize so far. Malala is the youngest Nobel laureate ever.

“Children must go to school and not be financially exploited,” The Norwegian Nobel Committee stated in a press release. “In the poor countries of the world, 60% of the present population is under 25 years of age. It is a prerequisite for peaceful global development that the rights of children and young people be respected.”

“I think of it often and imagine the scene clearly,” Malala said on her website. “Even if they come to kill me, I will tell them what they are doing is wrong, that education is our basic right.” After her treatment in a British hospital she said that being shot had only strengthened her resolve. “They can only shoot a body, they cannot shoot my dreams,” Malala said. “They shot me because they wanted to tell me that, ‘we want to kill you and to stop you campaigning’, but they did the biggest mistake: they injured me, and they told me through that attack, that even death is supporting me, even death does not want to kill me.”

[facts from Denison Forum, Huffington Post and Wikipedia : Edited by T,D’Souza ]