Charpoys to Nobels

When Hassan Nisar, social commentator and journalist, says that the most worthy thing the Muslims of the subcontinent invented was the charpoy (traditional, woven bed), he is not too far off the mark. The fact is that mainstream Muslims have even less to be known for: the Sunni Muslim male is seemingly not just talentless but also highly aggressive, good enough to set fire to the earth.
Meanwhile, the minorities and women, those who have their necks wrung and the skin under their nails exposed, are taking the world by storm. They are doing this despite the oppression, tyranny and asphyxiation of judgment and prejudice. First it was Ahmedi scientist par excellence Dr Abdus Salam, who was Pakistan’s first Nobel laureate, and now our very own Malala Yousafzai, who has gone ahead to claim the Nobel Peace Prize just as someone would grab a ripened pear from a low-hanging tree. No prize was more deserved than this. The Nobel just got co-branded with credibility, valour, honour and prestige.
This child star who was lucky enough to be discovered for her Anna Karenina-like diary entries, when much of Pakistan was busy dusting off the doormats for the Taliban to tread on, was not just lucky, for luck is arbitrary. Malala had this thing we call real horsepower, and not just power that comes from positions; the fragrance of the rose that does not stop being because someone lost their olfactory senses. She was writing tirelessly against the systematic horrors of the Taliban from the honesty of her heart when no light was shining on her dog-eared journals.
The microcosm of Pakistani society did lose its senses when Malala rose to fame. They chastised her, said the dupatta-clad girl child forgot her values, that she was an agent of the bogeyman we flippantly call the west, that she had sold off her cause for dollars and fame and so on. The fact is that Malala scared Pakistan. She showed Pakistan what the country was capable of. Pakistan had been brought a torch of resistance against obscurantism that shone so bright many chose to turn their eyes away from it, instead of carrying it forward.
Let us examine who loses the most: the girl child of Pakistan. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), there are 163,000 primary schools in Pakistan, of which merely 40,000 cater to girls. If their 2011 figures are to be believed, 7.261 million children are out of school at the primary level and 58 percent are female. Malala gave millions of girls the fight to fight, the cause to rally against, to demand an education that is their right as much as the next child in a developed country.
This has repercussions that are far and wide. Education, for its array of benefits that create nation-building ripples, provides that one essential function that saves most lives: it enables women to delay their child rearing age. This drastically reduces their ability to become one of the despicable statistics of our maternal mortality that are at the bottom rung globally. It also enables them to be more likely to give birth at public health facilities. Currently, only 14 percent of deliveries or births occur at these equipped facilities in Pakistan, according to the Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey Report, 2011-2013. Almost half of new-borns in Pakistan do not get a neo-natal check-up and hence half of them do not get an anti-tetanus shot. Mothers who are not children themselves and mothers who are educated are likely to provide protection to their children against preventable diseases.
This was Pakistan’s opportunity: to take the cause of Malala, own it and put behind it all advocacy campaigns to save lives. The government could make gargantuan changes in the psyche of the people if this was adopted in full. The entire health crisis this country faces is a crisis of advocacy and awareness. The opportunity is not gone just yet. With Malala winning the Nobel, the government can take on the challenge again: put its weight behind her and her growing Malala fund, the primary objective of which remains educating the girl child in Pakistan.
In case no one noticed, Malala has worked effortlessly to bring awareness to the cause of children the world over, be it the #BringBackOurGirls campaign in Nigeria or the Syrian refugees in Jordan. In doing this she has won support and bolstered the network of global forces to work for education. It is important to realise that she did this without the Nobel, chipping away at it like words after words after words in a diary that changed the world. Pakistan needs Malala. Above all, Pakistan needed some good news after a very long time.

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