A poster from India’s anti-caste Dalit movement that hangs before my desk says that the greater fault is of one who passively suffers oppression, than of the oppressor. I bump into the thought every time I look up and wonder how a demand so difficult could be said in words that easy. If somebody put a gun to my head, would I not follow the orders?
And that is what makes the story of Malala Yousufzai so heartening.
Pakistan is apparently divided between those who are for Malala and those who are against Malala. But outside Pakistan, Malala is not so much about politics. Malala Yousufzai is a child wonder, more life re-affirming than any folk tale you have heard recently. I have seen countless videos of Malala Yousufzai’s interviews and speeches, and each one gives you goose bumps. Each one reminds you of the idealism of youth that adulthood kills. Such amazing courage, passion, determination in a child shows a mirror to the world of adults and asks it: what are you good for? By doing so, Malala Yousufzai gives us all an inspiration to stand up against the big and small injustices we all face or witness around us. It is the David versus Goliath nature of Malala’s story — a girl child versus a man with a gun — that takes it beyond whether or not you oppose drone strikes.
Malala’s act of courage is now a story far beyond Pakistan and its political debates. Malala is now an inspiration to everyone in the world. Just two hours from Delhi, a girl named Razia was one of seven girls across the world to win the first UN Malala award. Razia struggled to stay in school and not do child labour, and with missionary zeal, she helps other girl children in Meerut stay in school. It is very common in our part of the world for parents to give their sons a priority over their daughters in their education expenditure. So many women who want to pursue higher studies are prevented from doing so by their parents because you know, ‘over-educated’ girls are not great for the arranged marriage market. Oh and then, arranged marriage and prohibition against working. In a world where women are imprisoned by family and society, Malala Yousufzai defied even death threats. What an inspiration to women everywhere. Women like Indira Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto have been an inspiration for ordinary women not born into political dynasties. But someone like Malala is one of their own, an ordinary girl.
The push that Malala Yousufzai has been given thus far by her father should not be over-estimated because once Malala starts speaking, it is clear she is her own person. Repeatedly making it clear that dialogue and education is what she wants rather than militancy or warfare, and invoking such figures of non-violence as Gandhi and Buddha, Malala is making it clear that she opposes military action against the Taliban. Give them education, she says. And yet, there are people who continue to attack Malala Yousufzai for becoming a ‘propaganda tool of the West’. There is some truth to the charge of ‘Western hypocrisy’ here, in ignoring ‘collateral damage’ here and highlighting a story that shows the Taliban’s collateral damages. But few are pointing out the ‘eastern hypocrisy’ in screaming about drones, drones, drones and then crying foul when a teenage girl tells us a story we’d rather not hear: that the Taliban destroyed 400 schools in Swat alone.
Taking a principled stance against violence, like Malala, should actually be the easier thing to do, than to point to one side’s violence and deflect attention from another side’s violence. Yet, we take sides because our own conscience is not clear. Didn’t the US create the Taliban in the first place, they ask you. But did the US ask the Taliban to shoot little girls?
But Malala Yousufzai is beyond these arguments now. There is a life-reaffirming quality to what she has to say to the world. Malala’s cherubic charm has already left its imprint on the world. Malala doesn’t need the Nobel Peace Prize, the Nobel Peace Prize needs her.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 11th, 2013.