There is a new saying in Karachi: Yar darr mat, Malala bann (Don’t be scared, be a Malala).
And to match these words was an expression of action on Sunday morning when angered people like Dr Samiah Ahsan and her husband Zia Akhtar flooded the Two Swords roundabout with their blue and white posters saying that they stood behind Malala, Shazia and Kainat, three young women who were attacked in Swat by the Taliban.
This was just one of the many small protests and demonstrations that have been popping up across Karachi to condemn the attack on Malala Yousufzai, a 14-year-old blogger for the BBC whose diary in 2009 chronicled the destruction of girls schools at the hands of extremists.
At first just a handful of people came to walk around the marble monument, with music blaring over speakers to boost morale. When asked if she thought people would show up on a Sunday at 10 am, Dr Ahsan told The Express Tribune that, “People are angry enough now”. This was not only about Malala, but about reclaiming this country.
“We are sick of these mullahs, Taliban etc. Every religion should be allowed to flourish,” she said, referring to the slow creep of extremism. “We want Jinnah’s Pakistan back. It’s time to get out and send a message across.” She felt that demonstrations like this have to keep on going and she hoped that they were replicated in every city and village in the country.
Pakistan has faced a particularly virulent and sustained attack on its minorities and anti-Taliban proponents this year. Generally, civil society’s reaction has not been vehement enough to stem the tide of radicalism which is often at an advantage because of its indiscriminate use of violence.
However, it appears that the attack on Malala has begun to change that. Aside from condemnations from political and social circles, jirgas in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa have declared war against the Taliban in their shock that a teenager would be shot. “We have been held hostage way too long. Enough is enough, we cannot just keep sitting,” Ahsan said. “We need to drive [those] people out.”
She was joined by several doctors from Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre, including orthopaedics surgeon Dr AR Jamali, emergency ward chief Dr Seemin Jamali, executive director Dr Tasnim Ahsan and gynaecologist Dr Azra Ahsan. Two buses rolled up to the roundabout and students from JPMC poured out.
Dr Seemin Jamali said that it didn’t take much convincing for people to show up as everyone wanted to help. “We condemn the attack, and Jinnah hospital is willing to help in any way possible for Malala’s treatment,” she said.
An 80-year-old Nusrat Ara Rizvi was spotted in the crowd, wearing a light sari and sitting on a chair. She was 15 years old when Pakistan was born. She still remembers the slogans, ‘Kat ke lainge Pakistan, mar ke lainge Pakistan’. “Once again the country is going through the same turmoil and once again we have to take it back from the people who have eaten and broken our country,” she said. “I was willing to give up everything for it then and am willing to do the same now.” Despondancy is sin.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 15th, 2012.