Celebrating a brave spirit

Celebrating a brave spirit

On October 9, 2012, a school van ferrying girls back to their homes in Mingora, the largest city in the Swat district, Pakistan was intercepted by a hooded, bearded Taliban gunman. His target was Malala Yousafzai. Once she was identified, the militant trained his gun on her and shot at point blank range; a raging bullet ran through her head and neck before settling in the shoulder.

While the blatancy of the cowardly act was shocking, it was not really unexpected since Malala, daughter of educationist Ziauddin, was already branded by the Taliban as a symbol of ‘infidels and obscenity’. She had after all gone against the diktats of the terrorist group and openly opposed, among others, the banning of education for girls. Despite the ban, she had gone to school ‘in plain clothes, without my school uniform, hiding my textbooks inside my shawl/apron and continued to do so’.

I Am Malala is a slim volume comprising 20 articles, news reports, interviews and poems. Edited by Delhi-based artist and writer Anoop Kamath, the book provides a peek into the life of the 15-year-old girl, who stood up against the might of horrendously intolerant and violent forces; and has now become a symbol of peaceful and active resistance. It also serves as a grim reminder of the troubled times in Pakistan brought about by acts of physical and religious terrorism.

Malala (born July 12, 1997) had been a fighter since an early age. As early as in 2008, she had given a courageous speech in Peshawar’s press club on the subject: ‘How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education?’ She became a forceful blogger in 2009, and began publishing under the byline Gul Makai, as a 12-year-old, and writing a diary for BBC Urdu Service about life under the Taliban rule.  Having observed how the militants had bombed dozen of schools to propagate their misguided morals and ideals, she chose not to remain silent, but to vociferously oppose the ban on female education by the Taliban. “Malala’s diaries provided a reflection of how militancy and conflict affect children, and leaves lasting psychological scars on them,” wrote Zofeen T Ebrahim, a freelance journalist based in Karachi.

The attempted assassination bid on Malala made national and international headlines. Quite miraculously, the young girl survived and came under medical treatment, first in Pakistan and later at the New Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham, UK. By the time she slowly came out of coma and responded to the treatment, she had already become a major inspirational force for millions of people around the world.

Today, Malala is a much-coveted activist, who has received many awards and accolades. ‘I am Malala’ logo is to be seen on T-shirts, badges, placards and websites by young people around the world.

“Country after country is adopting Malala as its symbol for a girl’s right to school,” wrote Gordon Brown, former PM of the United Kingdom and UN Special Envoy for Global Education, on November 10, 2012. “Malala Day is being celebrated with events in some 100 countries — not just in Asia, but with people taking action on every continent from Latin America and Europe to Africa and several cities in the US… I was also delighted to hear about Pakistan’s creation of four new Malala schools, a Malala Post-Graduate Institute and a new Malala Centre for Women’s Studies.”

Recently, when nominated for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, Malala became the youngest person to receive the honour.

The book, I Am Malala, is primarily a compilation of scattered material on the young campaigner and her courageous activism. It serves as a reminder of circumstances which led her to being almost killed and thereafter; more importantly, it is a tome to salute the spirit of a young girl to fight, against all odds, for a just cause.

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