Sunday, October 21, 2012

Malala, All of Us

I HAVE recently seen a photograph of Malala Yousafzai. She reminded me of myself in my childhood. Surprisingly, that is what many of my friends – girls – also felt. It is not the physical resemblance that made us all feel that we too were Malalas to an extent. It is the travails that had made us all feel Malala.

Malala Yousafzai is a 14 year old girl, studying in the Swat Valley of Pakistan. Just like many of us in our younger days, and like our children now, she too is a school-going child. And that was not a small crime. And even more bigger crime that she committed was encouraging her fellow girls to study. Crimes don’t go unpunished. Particularly in those lands where fanatics tread. Punished she was. Shot. Along with her, two more girls were injured. But she was the target. And she is struggling for her life.

In Afghanistan, and now increasingly in Pakistan, education for girls has become so dear. With the spurge in Taliban and other fundamentalist forces, thanks to the US and its petty interests, it became a matter of life and death. Girls who had failed to heed to the threats are attacked with impunity. Acid was thrown, faces disfigured and were even raped and killed. Their families are tortured. Videos were shot to spread the ‘message’. With the spread of extremist influence and violence in Pakistan, these incidents are becoming a regular feature there too. Malala is not the first and might not be the last. Fundamentalists are wrongly invoking religion and scriptures to defend their actions.

This phenomenon is not confined to a particular religion or society. Girls’ education is always a challenge. Have we not experienced it in India? Or, are we still not experiencing it? It’s not about ancient India where girls along with Shudras (and of course, Panchamas) were not allowed to, forget education, even listen to Vedas. Girls fought. There was a Gargi then. As recently as in the last century, we have had Savitribai Phule. Today, we don’t know their names, but their ilk are many. Don’t you remember the dalit girl – a girl and a dalit – in Odisha who was not allowed to study by the upper castes in her village? She resisted. She fought. And the State was compelled to give her police protection to continue her education. The scene where two policemen used to ride bicycles along with her, accompanying her to the school, was an inspiration in itself. And, of course, a pointer to the dismal state of affairs.

There was a girl in Andhra Pradesh. A brilliant student she was. She was in her tenth standard. And she needed money for paying her examination fee. Her mother was a domestic help. It was above her means to give her daughter the money. The girl tried mobilising money in her town, but in vain. She thought her aunt might help. Walked for over 30 kms and walked back disheartened. The next day, she left all of us disheartened. It’s a question of 100 rupees and she paid it with her life.

And we know of the two girls in Kerala. They were a bit more lucky. They cleared their plus two. Joined engineering colleges. The banks who pester us with pesky calls offering car loans, refused them educational loan. Banks wanted collateral. The girls didn’t have any. The only collateral that they could offer was their life. They offered it, jumping down from the multi-storeyed buildings.

In Britain, until Tony Blair became the prime minister, public education was free. He, representing the ‘New Labour’, directed for fee collection. It was a huge blow. So huge that girls started ‘dancing’. Pole dancing, strip dancing – all against their conscience, just to earn a few pounds to pay their school fees. There were a few more who sold their ova, to study in the schools.

These are not the only odds that the girls had to endure. They are all Malalas. And there are many more who are fighting sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is one crime ie, beating the inflation rate in its growth story. Some of our netas have the audacity to speak gobbledygook. A ‘firebrand’ woman leader committed to ‘poribortan’ says it is because girls and boys are intermingling freely nowadays. Another of her brethren says, it is because of eating chowmein. The other one, not to be left far behind, chips in with the suggestion to marry off girls early. And all of them agree that it is girls who were and are responsible for all the crimes that are committed upon them. Be it their dress or their attitude. They simply refuse to see, if at all they have eyes that can see, the rapes of months old babies and octogenarian grannies. Blame it on girls. So kill them even before they are born. Punish the victim. Spare the criminal.

In buses, metro, train, auto, walking, standing, in the classroom, in the work place, and even in the house – no place it appears to be safe. Lewd comments, obscene gestures, unwarranted touches, unleashing the beasts... that seems to be the norm. And blame it all upon the girls. And where is the ‘safe’ place? Neither the womb nor the world! This patriarchal society assigns a single safe spot for girls/women – grave. All of us are Malalas.

It is braving all these odds that girls are coming out to study. Their fight is against fundamentalism of all hues – caste and religion included. Fundamentalists help imperialism and imperialism helps fundamentalism. They feed on unemployment, poverty and economic inequalities. It is only by fighting all such vices can the world be made a more just place. Malala is an example. She fought the fundamentalists.  And she is now fighting for her life.

Malala’s life might be saved by giving her the best medical attention and treatment. But how will the society she dreamt of will be built? It’s an emergency. Join. Rush the patient – the society – to the operation theatre. Perform a surgery, ensure a systemic change. We are the doctors and nurses. We are all Malalas. We can cure this malignant tumour – with medicines and scalpels.

G Mamatha People's Democracy 21 October 2012

1 comment:

വര്‍ക്കേഴ്സ് ഫോറം said...

I HAVE recently seen a photograph of Malala Yousafzai. She reminded me of myself in my childhood. Surprisingly, that is what many of my friends – girls – also felt. It is not the physical resemblance that made us all feel that we too were Malalas to an extent. It is the travails that had made us all feel Malala.