Overarching security fears cast a long shadow on Malala Day celebrations in the hometown of the 15-year-old peace icon on Saturday, forcing organisers to shut out the public and even bar outdoor events.
This was in stark contrast to the flood of public events -- including an education seminar, a college scholarship fund and a rally by young flood survivors – held in Malala’s honour across the country.
In Birmingham, the headquarters of the local authority opened its doors to well-wishers to leave messages for the teenager, who is still in hospital in the central English city.
Not a single outdoor or public event was arranged in Swat, either by the district government or by any government educational institution.
At Malala’s own school, students marked a short but emotional event in the morning assembly by lighting candles and praying for the speedy recovery of the peace activist.
Some of the girls drew Malala’s portraits, while her closest friends delivered speeches in her honour. Moniba, a close friend, recounted her personal experiences with Malala: “I am here to share some of the more pleasant moments that I spent with Malala. Once, some of our class fellows were teasing her about why she had not worn more trendy clothes on a morning television show. She smiled and replied, ‘I like to concentrate on my words and actions more than on my clothes.’”
A tearful Moniba also requested the student body and faculty to observe a moment of silence in honour of Malala.
“We are proud of our best friend Malala for her tremendous fight for the rights and education of girls and we are sad that today she is not here in this school. We request her to come back and be with us as before,” Rida Salman, a classmate of hers, told The Express Tribune.
The event, however, was not open to the public. “We did not organise any open event because our school and its students still face a security threat,” the school principal, Mariam Khalid, told AFP.
Gordon Brown steps in
The UN chief’s special envoy and former prime minister of Britain, Gordon Brown, spoke via telephone to Shazia Ramzan and Kainat Riaz, the two girls injured in the Taliban attack on Malala.
Brown inquired after their health and expressed his sympathies. “He expressed solidarity with me and asked about my future plans,” Kainat told The Express Tribune.
“He talked to me for 10 minutes discussing my health and studies. He also asked whether Malala was in touch with me,” Shazia said.
In an interactive session organised by the National Commission for Human Development (NCHD), an event was held in collaboration with Unicef and Unesco to present on the ‘One Million Signatures for Right to Education’ project to Brown, who was the chief guest on the occasion.
The country’s response
In addition to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s message in support of Malala and female education, Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf and President Asif Zardari also lauded her bravery. President Zardari said in a message to mark Malala Day that she is a “symbol of all that is good about us.” The government also announced that the families of more than 3 million poor children in Pakistan will receive cash stipends if their children go to school.
Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain highlighted the plight of Kainat and Shazia, saying that they should also be nominated for the Nobel Prize along with her, adding that Malala’s struggle has taken the shape of a mission that will be accomplished. K-P Chief Minister Ameer Haider Khan Hoti said that she was a guiding light for the cause of girls’ education not just in Pakistan, but the world over.
In the Sindh Assembly, South Asian Women in Media (SAWM) held an event ‘Education for All and Peace for the region’, to pay a tribute to Malala and stress on the need for education in the country. SAWM also marked the event in Quetta and Islamabad at their respective press clubs.
Flood affected children who were brought to the event in the Sindh Assembly held placards and chanted, “Haan Main Malala hoon” – although many of them were unaware of who the girl was. Some students who had come to perform a tableau said that they had prayed for her in their school.
In Lahore, the Lahore College for Women University announced that it would award 15 “Malala Yousafzai Scholarships” for girls from K-P and the Northern Areas. (WITH ADDITIONAL INPUT FROM AGENCIES AND ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY OUR CORRESPONDENTS IN ISLAMABAD, KARACHI, LAHORE, QUETTA AND PESHAWAR)
Published in The Express Tribune, November 11th, 2012.