Cherishing Malala Yusufzai and Shahid Afridi: Week of the Tribals

18 Jul, 2013    ·   4042

D Suba Chandran on the need to uphold Malala Yusufzai and Shahid Afridi as symbols of humanity vis-a-vis the current scenario in Pakistan

During the last week, two individuals from different Pashtun tribes in the Khyber Pakhtunkwa (KP) province (formerly the North Western Frontier Province) in Pakistan made news at the international level. The first was a young teenage girl - Malala Yusufzai from the Swat region, when she made that historical speech at the UN,  designated as “Malala Day” and the second was Shahid Afridi, one of the best all-rounders in contemporary cricket, who single handedly won the match for Pakistan against the West Indies in the first one day match in Guyana.

Malala today is a household name in Pakistan. She came to the limelight last year, when Taliban shot her in the Swat region of KP, for advocating education for girl children. She wrote against the Taliban in public, when even the government and its security forces were afraid of going against the ultra conservative and essentially backward looking movement. The Taliban could not tolerate any threat from the society, certainly not from a girl, who is just fourteen years old.

When the Taliban is systematically targeting any opposition – whether the security forces of the State, or the tribal jirgas of the local society, how can it afford to allow a young girl child talk against what it believes as a fundamental objective – rejecting education to girls, and keeping women under purdah?
Malala today, no more an individual, has become a phenomenon within Pakistan.

When the State and Civil Society were afraid of taking on the Taliban, she was fearless. She spoke and wrote against the Taliban. Subsequently, the Taliban shot her in her head; fortunately for her, and for the rest of civil society within Pakistan, and the larger humanity, she survived. She fought the bullet wounds, after being admitted in a hospital in UK. She has recovered from the wounds of a brutal Taliban attack, and continued her cause – voicing for education of girl children.

The above is not just a story of a young girl. This is a folklore and a contemporary history. It may be easy to speak about women’s rights in a highly secured and fully air conditioned five star hotel in a national capital. But speaking at the ground level, in a tribal district of KP, where even the State forces do not dare, or where the governments sign agreements with the Taliban to impose the latter’s version of Shariah, a teen age girl speaking openly should be totally embraced.

The Time magazine did the right thing; it published her photo on its cover in April 2013 and mentioned her as one of the hundred influential people in the world. The United Nations went a step ahead, by naming her birth date (12 July) as Malala day. It is not just recognition to Malala Yusufzai; it is recognition of the United Nations and the rest of us, of what she stands for. The UN invited her to deliver an address; and when she did, she spoke for many such Malalas, not only within Pakistan, but all over the world. She is a voice of sanity and what could be referred as a moderate civil society in any part of the world. Undoubtedly, she is a phenomenon, we should all cherish. She is an extension of whatever is left as humanity in all of us. Embracing her is embracing humanity. Embracing her is embracing us.

Unfortunately, two things happened within Pakistan. One section went over board and exaggerated. There were artificial cries and slogans, elevating Malala to a messiah. The social media went berserk. On the other hand, another section, the ultra conservative, saw Malala as a Western conspiracy. People went on record to say, that the attack on Malala was in fact staged by the West, to malign the Taliban. Others within this section, went even further down and questioned the reasons behind the UN announcing a “Malala day” and inviting her to address. Her speech was seen as a script written elsewhere, especially by the US. They pooh-poohed Madonna writing Malala on her back, and made fun that Johnny Walker should have a Malala Special. Worse, they referred her as a puppet and her father as a pimp. Can we go any cheaper than this?

Why can’t we embrace few good things that come in our way, when the rest of our contemporary history has nothing much to boast about, in a given situation? Have we become so cynical? Or are we so male chauvinist - we cannot afford to see a girl getting an accolade that we can never dream of? What is the big difference between us and the Taliban? They have shot her with bullets and wounded her physically; we are shooting her with words, and wounding what she stands for, and indirectly, killing ourselves, and digging our own graves.

Whatever may be the reason behind the hyperbole and derision, the truth is, Malala has become a phenomenon and represents whatever good in us. Let us cherish that little young girl for reminding our collective conscience. Despite all the evil, Taliban and its various avatars amongst us, humanity still exists. Malala is an expression.

The second major success story last week for Pakistan was once again from one of its Pashtun tribes – Shahid Afridi. For the cricket crazy sub-continent, the Boom-Boom does not need an introduction. With more than 7000 runs and 350 wickets in one day cricket, in today’s world, he is perhaps one of the finest all-rounders. The record will speak for him and he let his arm and bat speak during the first one day international against the West Indies, after being dropped during the previous series.

He may come from one of the Pashtun tribes and he may come from Pakistan. But
like Boris Becker in his hey days, was he also not a role model for many of us? Especially the youth? Remember, like our own Sachin Tendulkar, he entered the cricketing world in his teens and has made a name for himself when he was barely 16? When he scored an ODI century in 37 balls, it was almost like Jim Hines breaking the 100 meters barrier by running in less than ten seconds, or Carl Lewis repeating the same later in the 1980s.

When he decimated the West Indies team with a seven wickets haul last week, after top scoring 76, it was almost a one man army for the Pakistan cricket team. Thankfully, the critics did not see an American conspiracy to ensure that the West Indies lose the match! Of course, the Boom Boom has his own flaws; he is temperamental, volatile and unpredictable. But is that not what makes him as one of the most dangerous players? If you take the boom boom out, then in fact, there will be no Afridi!

Malala Yusufzai and Shahid Afridi are rare phenomena in Pakistan today. In fact, Pakistan needs more of them today. And so does the entire region in South Asia. We may belong to different nationalities, but whenever there is an opportunity to relish as a South Asian, we should not let it go by.

Malala Yusufzai and Shahid Afridi, we cherish you. You are a part of us. You have made us proud.

By arrangement with Rising Kashmir