Why the world loves Malala

Published: October 10, 2013
The writer is a journalist in Delhi whose work has appeared in The Christian Science Monitor and The New York Times. He tweets @DilliDurAst

The writer is a journalist in Delhi whose work has appeared in The Christian Science Monitor and The New York Times. He tweets @DilliDurAst

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.

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Reader Comments (29)

  • faizaan
    Oct 10, 2013 - 11:44PM

    Now no one should write anything against Malala (in the comments)…it will be taken as blasphemy by our readers (infact more than).


  • Parvez
    Oct 10, 2013 - 11:52PM

    You were almost poetic in your eloquence……….just brilliant.


  • ModiFied
    Oct 10, 2013 - 11:59PM

    I am already on reverse counting for almost a week now for Malala to get Nobel Peace Prize. Story of Malala forces each one of us to ask ourselves the purpose of life. If I have sum up Malala in one sentence, I would say; “Purpose of life is much more important than the life itself” One can be proud of Malala, however, on the other hand the circumstances in Pakistan which led to becoming Malala what she is, need to be condemned in strongest possible words. Policies of Pakistani government are also responsible for what Malala is today. May be Pakistan government too shares the Nobel prize for its negative role in running affairs of Pakistan and thereby creating a Malala.


  • mehreen
    Oct 11, 2013 - 12:42AM

    All those ready to criticise just picture one thing: Taliban who are grown men with guns attacked a little unarmed girl for going to school. And she forgives them! Yup they are real warriors for Islam!


  • Zubia
    Oct 11, 2013 - 1:14AM

    faizaan…faizaan..faizaan. The green-eyed monster is showing and you look bad. Jealous my man? Could not do what this little girl has done? Makes Pakistani men look bad? All Malala has done is shown Pakistani men a mirror and you don’t like what you see.


  • T
    Oct 11, 2013 - 1:24AM

    Stop taking Gandhi’s name alongside Malala (even though she herself takes it out of ignorance). Malala stands for modern education, Gandhi was against it. Malala stands against oppression, Gandhi believed in the caste system. Malala wants to work and lead a normal life, Gandhi was against women in work places. Minus the violence Gandhi’s views were closer to the Taliban view than of Malala’s.


  • Zain
    Oct 11, 2013 - 1:31AM

    And why Pakistanis hate Malala????….it’s so unfortunate.


  • Aj
    Oct 11, 2013 - 2:06AM

    Malala is the pride of the country and the world at large. Long live Malala!


  • Kufristani
    Oct 11, 2013 - 2:12AM

    In a column about a heroic girl from Pakistan, the first sentence starts “A poster from India’s anti-caste Dalit movement”!

    No further comments needed.


  • A.A.
    Oct 11, 2013 - 3:19AM


    What else is she going to do? Exact vengeance and become a vigilante like Batman? Get real.


  • dada
    Oct 11, 2013 - 3:42AM

    We do not know if Talibaan attacked or not that little girl. But if there is one eligible woman candidate for world recognition, then it should be this


  • Water Bottle
    Oct 11, 2013 - 4:51AM

    Is it just me or others feel it as well?

    Somehow, her interviews seem labored and trained.

    Perhaps it is her nature. Some people are like that. Difficult to say.


  • ModiFied
    Oct 11, 2013 - 6:32AM

    @T: Shame on you for talking such things about Gandhi whom you hardly know. I suppose you are a Muslim and that should bring more shame for your views on Gandhi. Gandhi literally gave his life for Muslims. No use lecturing a closed minded person like you and that to on Gandhi.


  • ModiFied
    Oct 11, 2013 - 6:36AM

    @ Water Bottle : “Somehow, her interviews seem labored and trained.”

    Come on. I have watched her interviews since she was 11 yrs old. How many kids of her or for that matter even grown ups like you can speak with her clarity in front of world leaders in UN? For God sake stop being judgmental..


  • aqib
    Oct 11, 2013 - 6:57AM

    Will Edhi (a real fighter for rights of the weak and poor) get any of these multitudes of awards?


  • Sane
    Oct 11, 2013 - 8:45AM

    @zubia: Agreed. He seems jealous like the 80% of Pakistanis or so, who take pleasure berating others but have not an ounce of courage and bravery that Malala has.

    @T: Gandhi might have a little old-fashioned views by 21st centutry standards. But he was one of the biggest advocates of non-violence. He was a a very good leader.

    @water bottle: Err, it’s just you. English is not Malala’s first or even second tongue and she never studied at an elite grammar school or convent or something, so that’s why her interviews might come across as “labored” to you.

    @Modified: Malala deserves the Nobel Prize. And if she wins it, it will be one more slap on the face of religious fanatics.


  • T
    Oct 11, 2013 - 9:45AM

    @ ModiFied, No need to assume I am a Muslim. Better come to the point, which part of what I said is untrue? For someone calling himself “ModiFied”, giving sanctimonious lectures to others is rich!


  • T
    Oct 11, 2013 - 9:52AM

    @Sane, Err, Gandhi’s views were not “a little old fashioned”. They were terribly “old fashioned” even by the 20th century standards. Read his “Hind Swaraj”, defense of the caste system, opposition to family planning, jihad against modern education, and many more. It’s not my fault you don’t know about them, they have been whitewashed.


  • harkol
    Oct 11, 2013 - 9:54AM


    You are ignorant.

    Gandhi was for equality & education of women. He was the last big Hindu reformer who advocated Widow re-marriage, role for women in all public spheres. His close assistants were all women.

    One of the his closest followers was Sarojini Naidu, whom he supported her to become the Congress President in 1925. She was jailed along with Gandhiji. You should only read various Gandhi books and his famous quotes to see how he considered women to be a superior sex. And he said that “additional burden of maintaining the family ought not to fall on her.”.

    The only thing talibansque about Gandhi was in his staunch belief in Brahminic tenets of vegetarianism & Non-Alcoholism and also the Jain belief of pacifism. He enforced it on his followers with messianic zeal.

    It is clear you know very little of Gandhi, and his teachings. He had his flaws, but treating women as subservient, or as a weaker sex wasn’t among them.

    Please do not denigrate great people, without closely studying their life & work.


  • T
    Oct 11, 2013 - 10:19AM

    @ harkol:

    You are a bigger ignorant. Here is Gandhi around the time of his political beginning:

    “the most distinct and precious quality of a woman is her purity. To retain this purity, she should not do economic work; by doing economic work her purity and honour is violated.”

    However, as time went on, towards the later part of life he says, “What I want to see is the
    opening of all offices, professions and employments to women; otherwise there can be no real equality. But I most sincerely hope that woman will retain and exercise her ancient prerogative as queen of the household.”


  • Naveen
    Oct 11, 2013 - 4:11PM

    I hope you do realise that you are here talking about a man who was born in 1869. Back then, Women didn’t even have a right to vote. And that later statement about opening all offices to women would have been considered revolutionary, had it come out of the mouth of any senior European mass leader, let alone an Indian. In the next para he goes on to state that ” Equality in Status, I desire for Woman, but if a mother fails in her sacred trust towards her children, then nothing can atone for the loss”

    Here he is not talking about subjugation of women to menfolk (husband) or not allowing her to be educated or preventing her from taking any kind of job but about a woman’s central role in family when it comes to moulding character of the Children (future generation) of a nation. Unless you come from somewhere out of this world (where mothers and their children have no emotional attachment), I see nothing wrong with that statement. Whatever a women does is OK but Gandhi ‘expected’ (and not demanded) that at the same time woman should act as a moral guide to their children. If you still don’t understand this simple logic, better go watch the first half of that movie ‘Taare Zameen Par’.


  • Naveen
    Oct 11, 2013 - 5:30PM

    As for Caste System and Modern Education, his views were much more nuanced than you are trying to make it out. Rote mugging without any connection to the world around you does not count for ‘Modern’ Education. As for Caste System, his actions speak a lot louder than words (his role in Temple entry movement, Anti-untouchability campaign, Harijan Journal & Puna Pact etc are pivotal in history of Dalit movement in India). Infact long before he was gunned down by a proud Brahmin for being soft to Muslims, several assasination attempts were made by other proud Brahmins for his vouching of Dalit rights.


  • Khan
    Oct 11, 2013 - 6:16PM

    Ask CIA ,MI5 or RAWRecommend

  • T
    Oct 11, 2013 - 8:28PM

    @ Naveen, The temple entry movement etc did absolutely nothing for the Dalits. About the anti-untouchability work you are confusing that with the caste system. Listen in Ambedkar’s own words an account of their fraught relationship on such issues,



  • yousafhaque
    Oct 11, 2013 - 9:55PM

    @T:::Please read/re-read,The history of India’s independence movement,this time,without a bias.@Shivam Vij:::Very realistic and analytical essay about Malala.Who else other than a Dalit can better understand the plight of the likes of her


  • Naveen
    Oct 11, 2013 - 10:13PM

    Now since you have asked me. Without doubting his academic credentials, Let me put it very bluntly – Ambedkar was a communal leader of Dalits, not a leader of Indians. Infact you won’t find many Indians agreeing to the exact words he used to describe Hindu Civilisation (even amongst Dalits of today, though that has not & should not diminish his stature amongst Dalits). He never took any active part in freedom struggle, rather was quite content with contesting elections; strongly pushed for separate electorates for Dalits but could not get it due to Gandhi’s assurance of giving reservation to Dalit candidates within the joint electorates (a promise that Indian state has kept & even expanded to many other fields later on). I see Ambedkar as a more polished and educated version of Mayawati – Good for Dalits, but not a pan-Indian leader.

    I do not deny the fact that not many political elites were happy with Gandhi’s approach – not the militant revolutionaries, not the Brahmins, not the Sikhs, not the Muslims, not the Dalits and not even the humanist Tagore. But it is a fact that none of these political elites could peacefully involve masses into nationalist freedom movement at a scale that Gandhi achieved . Above all, unlike most political elites, Gandhi, ever compassionate of India’s mass poverty, lived a highly austere life with little belongings (when he died his belongings numbered barely 10 including stuff like watch, sandal, spectacle, eating bowl but no house), preached non-violence & truth and never involved himself into the scramble to gain political power. It would be a miracle to find a political leader of such high morals in today’s India.


  • gp65
    Oct 11, 2013 - 10:33PM


    ET Mods – Pls. allow a pointwise rebuttal to the hateful lies spewed about Mahatma Gandhi. The comparison to Taliban is odious. Please allow factual rebuttal.

    @T: “Stop taking Gandhi’s name alongside Malala (even though she herself takes it out of ignorance). Malala stands for modern education, Gandhi was against it. Malala stands against oppression, Gandhi believed in the caste system. Malala wants to work and lead a normal life, Gandhi was against women in work places. Minus the violence Gandhi’s views were closer to the Taliban view than of Malala’s.”

    Let’s review your statements one at a time.

    1) Please provide reference to the idea that Gandhiji was against modern education. HE himself went to UK to become a barrister. Please note he did not oppose inclusion of Maths and Science in curriculum nor did he push religion into curriculum. His only point about Macaulay’s template of education was that education should be relevant to people’s life and livelihood and not just churn out clerks for the British bureaucracy. He also advocated that medium of instruction should be mothe tongue instead of English. That idea was certainly not inappropriate at the time it was made. Do not confuse Westernisation with modernisation.

    2)YEs Gandhiji supported caste system (which is a source of identity). He however never supported discrimnation based on caste system. In fact he actively opposed it. If people can have different religions, languages, nationalities there is no harm in having different castes as long as people do not discriminate on the basis of caste.

    3) The notion that Gandhiji was against women in workplace has no basis in reality. In fact women joined the freedom movement in droves after the leadership passed to Mahatma Gandhi in early 20s. Until then, it was largely a male driven initiatve.

    4) Taliban believe in violence. Gandhiji was non-violent. Taliban believe that non-Muslims (those who did not share their own religion) are worthy of being killed. The exact opposite of Gandhiji who went on a fast to protect Muslims when retaliation for Direct Action started in Noakhali.Recommend

  • T
    Oct 12, 2013 - 2:08AM

    @ Naveen: If you are from an oppressed minority, be categorized as such, and speak for them, then you become a communal leader.

    @gp65: How would you qualify the following (that Gandhi wrote at the age of 62), discrimination or identity?

    “A Shudra can’t be called a Brahmin even if he possesses all the qualities of a Brahmin by inheritance. He should never claim his right other than the Varna in which he was born. This is an evidence of his being humble.” M. K. Gandhi, Young India (11-24-27).


  • Rakib
    Oct 12, 2013 - 7:08PM

    ET: Please permit this.It has a few Gujarati words(with approximate translations).The words are honourable.

    @harkol: (Gandhi was for equality & education of women. He was the last big Hindu reformer who advocated Widow re-marriage, role for women in all public spheres.)

    Very true. Gandhi was good at identifying that right sentiments needed right expression in correct words. He coined “Harijan” (god’s people) to substitute the pejoratives used for Untouchables. In Gujarati there were honorifics/prefixes to denote the status of Hindu women. For the unmarried girl it was “Kumari” (maiden), for a married lady it was ‘Akhand Sowbhagyavati’ (of complete auspiciousness). The widow had no such recognition except Vidhwa (widow)..It was a curse to be one back then. She was simply inauspicious, to be shunned. Gandhi gave her a name & a status: Gangaswaroop (embodiment of the Ganges) therefore holiest among the auspicious whose very sight is a blessing. Today many Gujarati-Hindus use that honorific on formal occasions-coupled with thought behind it- for their widowed mothers little realising that the man who struggled for that was Gandhiji. Even if he had done nothing else in his life, for that one effort I would have applauded him.


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