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In Malala's hometown not everyone likes her fame

16 October, 2014

MINGORA: Walking through one of the narrow alleys of Mingora town, one comes across Khushal Public School, the birthplace and alma mater of Malala Yousafzai.

The school is named after Khushal Khan Khattak, a seventeenth century Pashtun nationalist poet, scholar, warrior, leader and chief of the Khattak tribe who had encouraged revolt against the Mughal Empire in India. Malala's father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, had set up the school when he migrated along with his family from Shahpur town of Swat's Shangla district back in mid-1990s. The family used the upper portion of the building where Malala was born as residence until the launch of military offensive in Swat in 2009.

Being the only sister of two brothers, Malala was closely attached to her father. She often used to say that her father was the biggest source of inspiration for her. Being a poet, teacher and a secular Pashtun nationalist, he groomed his daughter quite well. She was trained to be bold, courageous and to remain a topper in school.

It was a coincidence that Malala's dad was asked to recommend a student for writing a diary for BBC Urdu under a pseudonym when Taliban were controlling the region. He suggested the name of his outspoken daughter who started writing blogs under the name Gul Makai highlighting the atrocities of Taliban in the region.

She became more vocal during the 2009 military offensive against Taliban in Swat when she started campaigning for the cause of education on local TV stations. The turning point in her life came in October 2012 when Taliban shot her in the head when she was on way back to her home from school. Everyone in the locality knows her story but majority of them view it with suspicion, believing that it was a conspiracy hatched by the West. "It was a planted drama in which Malala's father used his daughter for fame," said Arif Khan, who lives in the same vicinity.

"All students who lost their lives when their schools were bombed were greater heroes than Malala. She was made a heroine by media portraying her as the only student who was attending school during the ruthless rule of Taliban in the region," he said. "In fact, she was living in the school building," Khan added.

Ahmed Hayat Yousafzai, a Birmingham-based Pakistani lawyer hailing from Swat, says that Malala's story appears to be eyewash. "By championing the case of Malala, the West has tried to cover many of its human rights abuses, like killing and maiming scores of children and women in drone attacks in the tribal regions," he said.

So far, Yousafzai argues, neither the western powers nor Malala and her advisor father have spoken about hundreds of kids being killed in drone strikes.

"What to talk of drone victims, they did not even speak about the 15-year old Aitzaz who had saved lives of hundreds of students by stopping a suicide bomber from attacking his school," he added. Knowing about the prevailing resentment against Malala in Swat, her family members and school management feel uneasy to talk on her behalf. "It really hurts to hear people talking so critical of her.

They don't even realize to feel proud that a Pakistani teenager has won a Nobel Prize," said Iqbal Hussain, administrator of Malala's school.

Hussain is the key person who looks after the school affairs along with Malala's family members in Swat. "In a conservative region where most of the girls are married before the age of 15, a stand of a schoolgirl for the cause of education in an unfriendly environment carries little weight," Hussain said.

Nevertheless, the rest of the world thinks differently. She spoke against all odds when no one could dare speak. She wrote against the mighty when no one could dare challenge them. She vowed to continue her fight at any cost. She received a bullet in her head and survived death to become the most famous child activist of the world.


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