When you think of Malala, think of Bitika as well

Malala Yousufzai , the 14-year-old Pakistani girl who fought for the cause of education for girls, and shot by the Taliban, could be flown to Dubai for treatment.

“Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) has turned one of its planes into an air-ambulance to fly Malala Yousufzai, who was shot in the head by cowardly militants in Swat, to Dubai for treatment, Geo News reported,” said a media report.

It’s difficult to understand how anyone could cold-bloodedly shoot a young child in any circumstances, but terrorists are, obviously, made from a different mould than normal people are. They shoot the young girl — and are proud enough of it to acknowledge the fact. “In a clear message following the terrorist act, the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility of the heinous attack on a 14-year-old Malala as she travelled home from school along with other female classmates in a school van,” said The News.

While the act might be difficult – almost impossible – to understand for many, it wasn’t for young Malala. A little over three and a half years ago, in January 2009, Malala maintained a diary (in Urdu) and the updates are both telling and chilling.

Malala Yousufzai , the 14-year-old Pakistani girl who fought for the cause of education for girls, and shot by the Taliban, could be flown to Dubai for treatment. AP

This is Malala’s entry for 3 January 2009:
“I had a terrible dream yesterday with military helicopters and the Taleban. I have had such dreams since the launch of the military operation in Swat. My mother made me breakfast and I went off to school. I was afraid going to school because the Taleban had issued an edict banning all girls from attending schools.
Only 11 students attended the class out of 27. The number decreased because of Taleban's edict. My three friends have shifted to Peshawar, Lahore and Rawalpindi with their families after this edict.
On my way from school to home I heard a man saying 'I will kill you'. I hastened my pace and after a while I looked back if the man was still coming behind me. But to my utter relief he was talking on his mobile and must have been threatening someone else over the phone.” The diary, part of which was published on BBC’s website, is worth spending a few minutes on – and it’s disturbing.

This is a story from across the border, and captures our imagination because the innocent child has been shot.

After reading the diary, the picture one retains is one of a child fighting to stay innocent, enjoying simple pleasures such as going to school, loving her uniform, excited about the novelty of being asked to wear colourful clothes and, poignantly, worried about when the school will reopen after a vacation.

We do not have the Taliban here, or a Tehreek-e-Taliban, and, to my mind, no child has been shot as a deterrent for trying to go to school, but the loss of innocence is all pervasive.

Consider these facts: Only 2 out of 5 women in India can read or write. About 40% of Indian girls under 14 do not go to school.

Take the story of another Malala, a young girl called Aarti — in India. “Aarti is very beautiful. Her soft voice inspires trust. She would make a wonderful teacher or doctor. Instead, the 16-year-old lives on the street with her mother and brothers. She sleeps on the sidewalk and she spends her days roaming alleyways looking for odd jobs. She will not beg. “I can’t” she says, “It’s too embarrassing”. Because she is uneducated and has no skills, her opportunities are almost non-existent.

Aarti attended school until second grade when her older brother pulled her out. “I could have had a job, by not going to school, I have ruined my life” she says sadly. Still, she dreams of a better future: about getting a good job so that she can help her mother and siblings. Then she laughs at herself for thinking this way. “My dream can’t come true” she says, “I’m not educated.” Aarti, like millions of uneducated girls and women worldwide, are stuck in a vicious cycle in which poverty and lack of education feed off one another,” says UN.org.

There are many like Aarti in India. They’re just a little more fortunate than Malala, in that they are not threatened every day and, even more fortunate in that they have not been shot.

What about young Bitika. “Bitika Das is concentrating on her school work. The 16-year-old girl from a small village in West Bengal state knows this opportunity to study is one that was nearly lost two years ago when her parents arranged her marriage to a young man. “If I got married then, my education would have stopped at ninth grade. I could have achieved nothing in the future with an incomplete education. In my husband’s family, I was not going to get good respect,” she said, reports VoA.

There are millions of Aartis and Bitikas – because there’s another kind of Taliban which terrorises them – Indian society. “In many parts of India, the arrival of a baby girl calls for mourning rather than celebration. Abandoning them at birth or marrying them off as children is a common practice. Looked upon as huge economic burdens, it is hardly surprising that many Indian families don't see the point in investing in their education,” says the NGO Nanhi Kali.

The tragic story of Malala causes us to look at the state of affairs in Pakistan. It’s also a good time to look at ourselves, and look at the Aartis and the Bitikas – and look at the state of the girl child in India.

There’s no Taliban and no girl being shot in India. But the rest of it remains; the loss of innocence, the loss of aspirations and ambitions, and the loss of hope for millions of girls across our country.

Updated Date: Oct 10, 2012 12:13 PM

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