KHAIRPUR: Being incarcerated at the age of 13 did not stop Mehraj Bibi from pursuing her academic dreams.
She is now the first woman inmate to have a matriculation certificate at the Haripur Central Jail. Undeterred by social stigma and constrictive prison systems, Mehraj Bibi succeeded in acquiring the education which according to official sources qualifies her for a one-year remission under the prison’s rules.
Mehraj was arrested in 2003 at the tender age of 13 on charges of drug peddling. She says she was forced to carry the hashish by her husband. Hailing from the Pushtun tribal culture, Mehraj was married at a very young age.
She believes illiteracy was the root cause of her ordeal of first being tortured by the police and then being sentenced to 25 years in prison. “I am sure my life would have been different had my parents sent me to school,” Mehraj told female teachers from the Human Development Organisation (HDO) who helped her enroll in the nursery class at its jail-based Non-Formal Basic Education (NFBE) School in 2006.
Mehraj said marrying an already married man destroyed her life and she had to face the infamy of being a drug peddler. Although she admits she rarely thinks of the trauma following her arrest, she appears to be somewhat satisfied with her life in a prison which facilitated her in acquiring education.
One of the teachers at the NFBE School, Mehvish Bibi told The Express Tribune that despite being an alien to literature, Mehraj was eager to learn to read and write. Mehvish added she was first taught lessons from a basic literary course and later graduated to the syllabus set by the provincial government of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
“She was a brilliant learner in class and always passed her tests and exams with flying colours.”
Mehraj progressed quickly and reached 5th standard by 2009. Later she moved on to the 9th standard, which she passed from the Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education (BISE), Abbotabad, HDO’s literacy supervisor Miss Rizwana said.
Mehraj passed the secondary school certificate exam (10th standard) this year with the highest marks among the 72 prisoners during the annual exams of 2012, Rizwana added.
According to the announced results, Mehraj scored 795 marks out of the total 1050. Rizwana said Mehraj was determined to complete 16 years of education even after her sentence, which would be reduced by two years after passing the Matriculation and Nazra (Quranic teachings) exams.
Superintendent of Haripur Central Jail, Masood-ur Rehman congratulated Mehraj on her achievement. He claimed that prison authorities were committed to facilitating each prisoner in getting educated and lauded the efforts of NGOs, particularly HDO, working for the welfare of prisoners.
Other female students from the HDO School who passed grade 9 exams were Samina Ajmal, Fozia and Rehnaz Bibi. Amongst the males, Akram Khan, Naeem Khan and Shakil Khan passed the matriculation exams.
A total of 178 prisoners appeared for the 9th grade exam, out of which 177 passed.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 19th, 2012.
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