I was sixteen when my parents told me that we had guests over at my aunt’s place; guests from Pakistan. I was pretty keyed up because I have always been somewhat fond of the idea of meeting people from different expanses having a life relatively dissimilar to mine. My ancestors hailed from Sindh, Pakistan but a few years after the Partition, my grand parents moved to India. Some of their brothers and sisters along with their families were left behind by fate or by choice. It was about eight years back when I met two of my distant cousins, a little younger to me, but fully clad in salwar-suits and handling a dupatta (robe). My sisters and I stood in front of them, wearing jeans, t shirts, skirts, tops or dresses. They gazed at us with a dismal expression and the older one said: “How can you wear such clothes? Don’t you feel uncomfortable? Yesterday I even saw a girl wearing a short top with thin strings over the shoulder; both her arms were entirely exposed. I got so petrified.”
I gave her a startling look and said- “Haven’t you ever worn a jeans?”
“My Dad would kill me if I do that.”
“What about your brother? What does he wear?”
“He can wear a jeans or trousers or kurta pajamas. Anything he likes.”
“I don’t know. May be, because he is a boy.”
We moved over to the dining room for our dinner and the conversation was stumped there enveloped with a lot of unspoken emotions and peculiar thoughts. However, I needed to talk to them about all the things that had made me curious at all times. I had read stories about girls in Pakistan, especially those who were not Muslims and those who lived in the smaller cities and towns. My cousins conceivably belonged to that sector of the Pakistani society that I was rummaging around for.
After an hour the girls joined us for yet another session of cultural discussions. I told them I had to be home in time because I had an assignment to get done with for school the other day. All of a sudden, I caught their somber expression and asked- “You go to school, right?”
“We used to. Now we don’t.”
“Because we are grown-ups. We studied till we were fourteen. Now we stay at home.”
“Stay at home and do what?”
“Help our mother with all the domestic work.”
“What about your brother? Will he also drop out of school once he is fourteen?”
“Haha. Ofcourse not. He will study till the time he wants to.”
“Because he is a boy”- she said with a ‘you’re-so-dumb-that-you-don’t-know-this” look.
Today, that eight year old episode crossed my mind after I read about the letter that the Taliban wrote to Malala Yousafzai. Doesn’t this name ring a bell? Malala is the same girl who was shot while boarding her school bus about one year back; the girl who wrote for BBC’s Urdu Diary under an alias and exposed the atrocities of the Taliban. Adnan Rasheed, a senior affiliate of the Pakistani Taliban wrote an open letter to Malala expressing regret that he didn’t warn her before the assault. In his letter, Rasheed didn’t put across even a speck of remorse or indignity; rather his tone was that of self-righteousness and pride for their act of attacking the girl who maligned the insurgents and stood against the Taliban. In one of her recent speeches in the United States, she emphasized on the adage: “A pen is mightier than the sword.” She articulated her craving to broaden education in every part of the world and to wrestle against prejudice. Rasheed and his rebels couldn’t have endured her fearlessness and nerve. He asserted in his letter that the Taliban did not attack Malala because she advocated female-education; instead, they shot her because of the manner in which she criticized and smeared the Taliban and its ideals. Some people back there in Pakistan, consider Malala a drama queen. But, more significantly Malala is an emblem and an icon for every Pakistani girl who harbours the desire to study inside her heart. The Taliban were further repulsed because the entire world came out in her support and she gained immense international recognition. Rasheed exaggerates on the fact that this identification and assistance should have been proffered to the people killed in the US drone attacks.
Another part of the letter endeavoured to justify the blowing up of schools by the Taliban by alleging that the schools are used as hideouts by the Pakistani Army. It cited points to make people believe that the Taliban is not entirely in opposition to education but against the ‘smear campaign’ that Malala has been running.
Thus, after about a year, the Taliban voiced their motives for trying to kill a young girl who considers education as imperative. I do not know what impact this letter has on anybody, but I just know that their attack must have shoved thousands of school-going girls in the vicinity of illiteracy. The Taliban inflicted a dread in the psyche of these little girls and their parents, who are already not as advantaged or powerful to be able to voice their opinions, stand up and fight and let humans be free.
I hope I could have told my cousin back then – “Study. Read books. Be yourself. Live life.”
And when she would have asked – “Why?”
I’d have said – “May be, because you’re a human.”