The students of The Nation Secondary School in Baldia’s Ittehad Town will gather to collect their results on Monday – exactly nine days after a tennis ball packed with explosives was lobbed inside the school before its principal was gunned down.
The incident killed the principal, Rasheed Ahmed Swati, who was also an office bearer of the Awami National Party (ANP) Sindh and a grade-four student, Tahira Noor. Two guests and six female students were wounded.
The 18-room school delivers the cheapest education in the neighbourhood. Swati started the school in 2001, when it was no more than a dilapidated shed with no rooms, or chairs. It also had no tuition fee. The first batch of 20 students sat on mats before their only teacher – Swati himself.
“My father had a passion to spread education among our people,” his son, a proud alumnus, recalled. “He went door-to-door and asked the poor families to send their children to the school. He gave free books, uniforms and food to those children.”
Over time, Swati managed to turn the shanty house into a high school, making sure that the fee remained affordable to the parents. “I will try to carry on this mission,” said the proud son, adding that his father never mentioned receiving any threats.
Swati’s friend remembers, however, that a self-proclaimed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) Karachi representative called Swati from an unidentified number and demanded he quit the ANP. “The attack was not only targeting Swati, but it aimed to create panic, grab media attention and cause fear among female students,” Amir Nawaz told The Express Tribune. “Rasheed [Swati] was a soft target. They could kill him easily at any street because he never travelled with arms or guards.”
Attack on females?
One of the victims of the attack, Attaur Rehman, a principal of Iqbal Academy – another private school in the area – felt the attack meant to deter the female students. “The attacker was standing on the boys’ side and was firing towards the girls,” he recalled, adding the cracker was also hurled at the girls. “Luckily, we managed to send them inside the classrooms when they opened fire, otherwise around a hundred female students would have died.”
Rehman believes that a particular mindset opposes female education. “They want to snatch pens from our females,” he said. “It was an attack on our education and particularly on our females, to create fear among them.”
Education activist Malala Yousafzai also visited the school on Swati’s request in March last year. She shared her experiences in female education in Swat and gave a speech before she met the students individually.
The parents are, nevertheless, scared to send their children to school. “A father asked me how they could send their children to school when they are not safe inside,” said Rehman. “I asked him if he stopped going to the mosque because they are attacked too?” Even after losing his daughter in the attack, Maulana Noor Wahid is determined to send the rest of his children to school. “My children will continue their education and no one can stop them.”
He did ask the government ensure peace in the neighbourhood so that similar incidents do not take place.
Back on track
After spending a week getting the affairs back on track, the school decided to reschedule its results ceremony for Monday. Swati’s son, Maaz Ahmed, who is the acting principal, told The Express Tribune that they are looking for another principal. “After my father’s murder, we are looking for a female principal, whom I will assist.”
Published in The Express Tribune, April 7th, 2013.