Thursday, December 11, 2014

Why We Love Malala

Illustration by Bilawal Khoso
Malala Yousufzai moved me to tears with her powerful acceptance speech at the award ceremony in Oslo which conferred upon her the honour of being the world's youngest Nobel Peace laureate.

"Why is it that giving guns is so easy, and giving books so hard?" she asked. Coming from Malala, it wasn't just a smart rhetorical question thrown in for effect. She has seen violence at close quarters. The Taliban tried to kill her, and muffle her young voice demanding that girls too have the opportunity to access education, schools, books.

Today, she lives in the UK, far away from her home in the picturesque Swat valley in Pakistan. However, her soil and her people have a warm place in her heart. As she said in an interview with journalist Barkha Dutt earlier in the day, she hopes to return to Pakistan.

Malala has become an inspiration for millions of people all over the world. I am reminded of my eighth graders and their sparkling eyes from a class few years ago. They were filled with hope when they first heard Malala's story. She reminded them of their own brilliance, lying latent, waiting to flourish.

A celebrated campaigner for girls' education isn't all that Malala is. She also offered a beautiful example of the role that faith can play in one's activist work. At a time when groups and individuals in many parts of the world are committing brutal acts of violence by misusing the name of Islam, Malala spoke about what her faith and her holy scripture motivate her to do: read, seek knowledge, speak up for others who don't have a voice.

Yes, I am aware of all the criticism surrounding her receiving this Nobel. Whatever you may say about her being a Western stooge, or her father being an opportunist milking his daughter's injury for fame, or the Nobel Committee's decision of giving the prize to some recipients whose commitment to peace is questionable, there is one amazing thing this young woman of 17 managed to do.

Since she shared the prize with Indian child rights activist Kailash Satyarthi, she invited to the Prime Ministers of both India and Pakistan to grace the ceremony with their presence. She appealed to them to sit down and talk. "India and Pakistan have similar challenges. We must work together," she told Dutt in an interview from Oslo.

The Prime Ministers didn't show up but I hope they were listening to the wisdom in her humble appeal. Satyarthi too spoke about the disproportionate allocation of resources to education and defence.

Let us ride on the energy of these Nobel Peace laureates, and show the world that Indians and Pakistanis can work together and transform their countries into places where children read books, write stories, perform plays, compose music and make films - not toil away in carpet factories, or be shot at for daring to dream.


(This is a guest post by Chintan Girish Modi. Chintan is an old friend of Pratham Books. He is the founder of Friendships Across Borders: Aao Dosti Karein, an initiative promoting friendship between Indians and Pakistanis through storytelling, social media and interactions with students. To know more, look up https://friendshipsacrossborders.wordpress.com and Friendships Across Borders: Aao Dosti Karein on Facebook. He tweets @chintan_connect and @aaodostikarein)

The illustration used in this post is by Bilawal Khoso - a Karachi based artist. You can follow his work on Facebook or Twitter.

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