Monday, January 19, 2009

Taliban, education, and diary of a 7th grade school girl from Swat

Perhaps there can be no greater irony than the intrinsic linkage of education in the name of Taliban - meaning literally "students". The Taliban movement mostly grew out of madrassas in the mid-1990s on the Afghan-Pakistan border. Not content with old fashion book burnings, they are taking their hatred of education to the next level by leading acid attacks on students or by threatening to kill them. Now Pakistan's northern areas are experiencing Taliban's despicable attitude towards female education. In the Swat Valley, for example, a local Taliban leader threatened to kill girls if they go to school after January 15th. Indeed, schools are now closed for an indefinite period (winter vacation with no reopening date). Swat, by the way, is a beautiful valley and it used to be a major tourist destination before Taliban started exerting their influence in the last couple of years. Here is an overview of this depressing picture for Swat school girls:
Contempt for female education has been a basic tenet of extreme ideology of Maulana Fazlullah, a radical cleric who is waging an armed campaign since 2007 to impose Taliban-style rule in Swat, formerly a popular tourist destination.

The revolt has taken the lives of hundreds of people, including dozens of security personnel. Fazlullah's followers bombed or torched more than 170 schools, most of them for girls, over the last year and a half, depriving over 20,000 students of their basic right to education. But late December they put the final nail in the coffin. In his daily broadcast on a pirated FM frequency, Fazlullah's deputy Shah Dauran set a January 15 deadline to shut all the schools, saying they promoted Western values and a culture of obscenity. He warned educators of dire consequences if any girl was seen attending a school and ordered school van drivers to stop transporting girls.

The Taliban later softened their stance and allowed girls' education only up to fourth grade. With little trust in thousands of government troops, who have so far been unable to quell the Taliban rebellion despite months of a fierce campaign, Private Schools' Management Association Swat closed some 361 institutions, including 20 girls' colleges, across the district.
BBC is running a diary of a 7th grade school girl from the Swat valley (it was originally reported on BBC Urdu). Here are just a couple of snippets:

From January 15th:
The night was filled with the noise of artillery fire and I woke up three times. But since there was no school I got up later at 10 am. Afterwards, my friend came over and we discussed our homework.

Today is 15 January, the last day before the Taleban's edict comes into effect, and my friend was discussing homework as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.

Today, I also read the diary written for the BBC (in Urdu) and published in the newspaper. My mother liked my pen name 'Gul Makai' and said to my father 'why not change her name to Gul Makai?' I also like the name because my real name means 'grief stricken'.

My father said that some days ago someone brought the printout of this diary saying how wonderful it was. My father said that he smiled but could not even say that it was written by his daughter.

From January 5th about uniforms:
I was getting ready for school and about to wear my uniform when I remembered that our principal had told us not to wear uniforms - and come to school wearing normal clothes instead. So I decided to wear my favourite pink dress. Other girls in school were also wearing colourful dresses and the school presented a homely look.

My friend came to me and said, 'for God's sake, answer me honestly, is our school going to be attacked by the Taleban?' During the morning assembly we were told not to wear colourful clothes as the Taleban would object to it.

I came back from school and had tuition sessions after lunch. In the evening I switched on the TV and heard that curfew had been lifted from Shakardra after 15 days. I was happy to hear that because our English teacher lived in the area and she might be coming to school now.

Read other entries here. New York Times also had an editorial last Saturday about an acid attack on a 17 year old school girl in Afghanistan:

Ms. Husseini is a student at the Mirwais School for Girls outside Kandahar. Two months ago, as she was walking to school with her sister, a man on a motorcycle sprayed her with acid, burning her face and eyelids. Fourteen other students and teachers were attacked that day in an attempt to shut down the school. It failed.

As Ms. Husseini told our colleague Dexter Filkins, “The people who did this to me don’t want women to be educated. They want us to be stupid things.” Ms. Husseini’s parents told her “to keep coming to school even if I am killed.”

The Taliban denied responsibility for the assaults at the Mirwais school. But one of the group’s signature and most shameful repressions during the years it ran Afghanistan was its ban on educating girls. As it has regained power and territory, it has been attacking schools and female students.
Sorry for such a downer post to start the week - but we should at least be informed about these incidents. Things are such a mess over there that I also think that solution to the Pakistan-Afghanistan problem lies in at least some negotiating with the Taliban. I just hope that Pakistan government realizes that education for girls in the area is not up for any compromise.

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