Critics of Malala Yousafzai's appeal to restore education system in Kashmir are conveniently ignoring her track record

  • On 14 September, 22-year-old Malala, who has spoken out against drone attacks and the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar, tweeted in appeal to global leaders to address the clampdown in Kashmir

  • Malala, who has won several awards for her humanitarian work in education, became a global icon when she was shot in the head by the Taliban, during the militant group's occupation of her hometown of Swat in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa district of Pakistan

  • The call to ensure the functioning of schools in the Valley has not been received well by some Indian political leaders as well as some sections of the Indian public

Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai has come under fire for her statement urging global leaders to address the issue of Kashmiri youth, especially girls, unable to attend school because of the restrictions on public movement as a "preventive measure" after the NDA government at the Centre abrogated Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir. The law, which granted the restive region a degree of autonomy through a special status, also lent to the Kashmiri community's identity.

22-year-old Malala, who has spoken out against drone attacks and the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar, is a global champion for the right to education, especially for female students. Encouraged into activism by her father Ziauddin, a school principal, Malala has also started a fund for girls’ education.

On 14 September, she tweeted that she had spent time with journalists, human rights lawyers, and students in Kashmir to "hear directly" about the communications blackout in the region because of which "Kashmiris were unable to make their voices heard".

 Critics of Malala Yousafzais appeal to restore education system in Kashmir are conveniently ignoring her track record

File image of Malala Yousafzai. Image from Twitter @sebasnadilo

Relaying the accounts of three girls "in their own words", Malala quoted them as saying, "I feel purposeless and depressed because I can’t go to school. I missed my exams on 12 August and I feel my future is insecure now. I want to be a writer and grow to be an independent, successful Kashmiri woman. But it seems to be getting more difficult as this continues."

Malala also appealed to leaders of the United Nations General Assembly, due to be held later this month, to "work towards peace in Kashmir, listen to Kashmiri voices and help children go safely back to school."

Malala, in her activism, has maintained a one-point agenda on education, especially those in developing countries in Asia and Africa.

In an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour, she spoke about realising the power of education after the Taliban attacked her for defying a ban on girls attending school.

She said, “When the terrorists came, when they stopped us from going to school, I got the evidence. And they showed me proof that, yes, the terrorists are afraid of education. They are afraid of the power of education.”

The call to ensure the functioning of schools in the Valley by the human rights activist has not been received well by some Indian political leaders as well as some sections of the Indian public. In what can be described as a definite case of whataboutery, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies have asked Malala to speak about the "forceful persecution" against minorities in her native country.

"Sincere request to the Nobel winner, to spend some time speaking with the minorities of Pakistan. To speak against the forceful conversation and persecution taking place on the minority girls in her own country! Developmental agendas got extended to Kashmir, nothing suppressed!" tweeted BJP leader Shobha Karandlaje.

Shiv Sena leader Priyanka Chaturvedi tweeted, "Pakistan doesn't react to how it's perceived in the world, carries forward their agenda and how Malala is helping run that agenda on Kashmir in the garb of her 'concern' for Kashmiri girls but am loving the meltdown Indians are having on behalf of Malala. So touching."

While the reference to human rights violations and atrocities against minorities in Pakistan is not inaccurate, the arguments made by Chaturvedi, Karandlaje, and several others indicate a limited understanding of the activist's work and stands on issues with global impact.

Who is Malala?

Malala, who has won several awards for her humanitarian work in education, became a global icon when she was shot in the head by the Taliban, during the militant group's occupation of her hometown of Swat in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa district of Pakistan.

The then-15-year-old was on her way home from school — despite instructions from the militant group banning girls from attending school — when gunmen apprehended the vehicle and shot Malala, who was then comatose but stable enough to be shifted to a hospital in UK's Birmingham. Two other girls travelling with Malala were also injured in the attack.

Reportedly, the Taliban's attack was in response to the activism Malala had been participating in ever since she was 11 years old, encouraged by her father Ziauddin, a school principal. At his encouragement, Malala started writing a blog for the BBC's Urdu service under a pseudonym in 2009 about life under the Taliban in Swat, which the Islamist militants had taken over in 2007.

Opponents were murdered, people were publicly flogged for supposed breaches of sharia law, women were banned from going to market, and girls were stopped from going to school. Her blog, written anonymously with the clarity and frankness of a child, opened a window on the miseries being perpetrated in Pakistan.

Malala's activism

Malala, "the bravest girl in the world", is now recognised as "a formidable and instantly recognisable force for human rights". She received a standing ovation for a 2013 address to the United Nations General Assembly in which she vowed "never to be silenced". That year she also won the European Union's prestigious Sakharov human rights prize, and challenged Barack Obama in the White House over drones.

On a visit to the White House in October 2013, Malala met with then-US president and first lady Michelle Obama and challenged one of his "premier" counterterrorism strategies.

"I also expressed my concerns that drone attacks are fueling terrorism," she said in a statement released after the meeting. "Innocent victims are killed in these acts, and they lead to resentment among the Pakistani people. If we refocus efforts on education it will make a big impact."

In 2014, at the age of 17, she became the youngest-ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, sharing the award with Kailash Satyarthi, an Indian children's rights activist.

On her 17th birthday in 2014 she was in Abuja, pushing President Goodluck Jonathan to meet with the parents of hundreds of girls who had been kidnapped by the Islamist group Boko Haram.

In 2014 she announced she would donate $50,000 to help rebuild United Nations schools in Gaza, then addressed a thousand schoolchildren in her home province via videolink, urging them to fight on for education.

She has also fought for Syrian refugees, declaring at the UN in 2015 that the world had "lost humanity" over their plight. On her 18th birthday, she opened a school for Syrian girls in Lebanon. She has criticised US President Donald Trump for his stance on refugees and Muslims, and fellow Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi for her lack of action over the Muslim Rohingya in Myanmar.

Repeatedly, since 2013, Malala has expressed that she would like to become the Prime Minister of Pakistan someday to "save" her nation, however, a few years later, she said indicated that she would prefer to continue to work in activism.

With inputs from agencies

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Updated Date: Sep 16, 2019 13:46:57 IST