Why I was wrong about Malala Yousafzai

This article of mine was published on The Indian Republic, India’s largest not-for-profit news portal on 30th October, 2013 over here.

Image Credit- PTI

Image Credit- PTI

When I heard that Malala Yousafzai, the teenage Pakistani activist, was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, I was surprised. While I felt sympathy for the kid who was shot in the head by the Taliban- something that no sixteen year old should be put through, I didn’t think that she deserved a Nobel prize that would put her on the same pedestal as Martin Luther King, Aung San Suu Kyi, Nelson Mandela and Mother Teresa – who dedicated their entire lives to causes that they had championed and, more importantly, achieved something tangible during the course of their lifetimes.

My friends and colleagues disagreed with me

My friends and colleagues did not agree with me. They were thoroughly impressed by Malala’s profound vision for girl children in Pakistan, her courage for daring to stand up to the Taliban and her ability to articulately express her thoughts. These things, especially seen in the context of her young age, they argued, merited recognition from the international community- in the form of a Nobel Peace Prize. I decided to do some secondary research on this teenage icon to better justify my stand.

I went through a bunch of articles on her, watched a few interviews of her’s and read a few opinion pieces on her life. By the time I was done, I became a fan of this teenager’s and concluded that I was wrong. Here is what I learnt during the course of my research:

The context: Malala and the Taliban

In order to better understand the role that Malala played in Pakistan, it is important to understand the Taliban. The Taliban are a set of fundamentalist militants who control parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan. They enforce what they claim to be a strict Islamic code of conduct in areas that they control. The Taliban have banned music, television and girls’ education. They do not recognize basic human rights and are particularly known to oppress women.

Why Malala deserves the Nobel and more:

1) Open defiance of the Taliban from the tender age of 11: In the Swat valley of Pakistan, the region where Malala lived, the Taliban banned girls from going to school, blew up more than a hundred schools and routinely killed civilians who disobeyed their ‘diktats’. At a time like this, when the Taliban could virtually kill anyone in the region at will, Malala, then just an eleven year old girl, had the courage to make a public speech in favour of education, against the Taliban. During the speech, she asked, “How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education?” When was the last time you saw an eleven year old do something like that?

Image Credit- npr.org

Image Credit- npr.org

2) Activism for women’s rights and education despite death threats: Malala was a public figure in Pakistan who actively championed the causes of women’s and children’s rights despite stiff opposition from the Taliban, from whom she even received death threats. At the age of 12, Malala was one of the few brave Pakistanis to have blogged for the BBC (under the pseudonym ‘Gul Makai’) on issues related to education and women in Swat Valley. She appeared on local and international television, actively promoting the cause of girl’s education and women’s rights. Malala tried to influence international opinion on this matter and was even a part of a delegation to meet Richard Holbrooke, the US’s special ambassador to Pakistan and Afghanistan to whom she is said to have pleaded, “Respected ambassador, if you can help us in our education, so please help us.” She even wanted to start a foundation that would help poor girls get an education. Her efforts were recognized with the National Youth Peace Prize and nomination for the International Children’s Peace Prize.

Let alone doing so at the age of 15, can you imagine championing a cause at 50 or 75 and being this effective?

3) Display of exemplary bravery after a near fatal assassination attempt: Despite being shot in the head, in October 2012, by the Taliban she miraculously survived. She would have been forgiven had she chosen to give up activism after such a tragedy. After all, she was just over 15, experienced untold pain and nearly lost her life.

Surprisingly for me, she continued to fight for the cause that she had been championing all her life – the right of the girl child to receive education. She embarked on a worldwide campaign to build support for the cause – addressing the UN General Assembly, speaking at Harvard University and meeting world leaders such as Queen Elizabeth and Barack Obama.

How would you react to an assassination attempt? I for one think that I would hide under my bed for a very long time. That is precisely why I am not Malala. Hats off to the young lady!

Malala gives us hope

Most important of all – Malala gives us hope. Through her courage, conviction and unyielding dedication to the cause of girl’s education, Malala gives hope, not just to a nation, but to every girl child in the world who seeks an education and a better future. This, in my opinion, is more than enough to deserve a Nobel Peace Prize. As Robert Frost once said,

“The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.”

We will see a lot more of Malala Yousufzai in the coming decades, and who knows, she might even win the Nobel Prize one of these years.

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