KARACHI: A week after losing its principal to a hand grenade attack by extremists, the Nation Secondary School in Baldia's Ittehad Town reopened on Monday. However, on Tuesday, there were not many students and the school had to be closed earlier than the usual time.
With half of its structure reconstructed after three hand grenades were lobbed on the school building on March 30, there is an apparent calm as school staff goes about their work like any other day. However, the men inside the school are conscious and aware of the threat that looms around them.Aijaz Ahmed, the 17-year-old son of deceased school principal Rasheed Ahmed, is looking after the school along with his cousin and Rasheed’s nephew, Aftab Ahmed. With a white skull cap on his head, he kept folding and unfolding his hands as he spoke about what happened that day.
A distribution ceremony was going on inside the school with children from all grades present, making it around 456 students, plus teaching staff and guests. The children were waiting for the magic show to begin, when one by one, they heard three hand grenades go off.
“Out of the three hand grenades thrown towards the building, two hit the school wall. One landed straight inside the school, injuring seven of our students,” Aijaz said. Out of those injured, 10-year-old Tahira Noor who was a grade four student died after succumbing to a spinal injury.
Just seconds later, as people looked at each other to make sure they were all right, gunmen opened fire at the school, hitting Principal Rasheed Ahmed and chief guest, Mian Syed Wahid, straight away. Nobody knows where the shots came from, but Aijaz said they may have been “fired from the opposite two storey building”.
Rasheed died on his way to the nearby Murshid Hospital after suffering ten gunshot wounds on his temple, arms, ribs and legs. “We thought of shifting him to Abbasi Shaheed Hospital, but it was too late,” adds Aijaz. Mian Wahid, however, survived the attack, and was shifted to another hospital where he is currently undergoing treatment.
Rasheed, known in the area as Awami National Party’s vice president of district west, was “despised by some” for initiating girls’ education in the area, added Aijaz. It was Rasheed’s pet project as a social worker, his son adds, to begin a co-education school in the area. Built in 2001, the Nation Secondary School had only two rooms and a handful of students who came from nearby neighborhoods.
Hajra Gul, 26, joined as a student and is currently one of the 12 teachers associated with the school. When asked about the uncertainty and insecurity after the March 30 attack, she shrugged, saying “violence is a part of Karachi”. However, she firmly added: “We may be attacked but that will not stop us from educating our children, be they of any gender.”
Aftab Ahmed, Rasheed’s nephew, said the school was running on welfare funds provided by a local NGO and with the donations Rasheed received from friends and associates. Both Aftab and Aijaz deny the attack being the work of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and claimed that such reports were manufactured by the police.
“Police and the media are incessantly reporting that Taliban are behind the attack on our school and my father; it is not true. I haven’t said it anywhere,” Aijaz said, while Aftab added: “My uncle was more than a political worker; he worked for the people.”
Mian Syed Wahid’s son, who only goes by his first name Anwar, reiterated the same. Speaking about Rasheed, he said “four months back, he survived an attack while he was in an ANP office in the same area (Ittehad Town)”. When asked why, Anwar said: “he (Rasheed) was helping the SSP and the SHO in the area in locating criminals.”
Without naming anyone as a perpetrator, ANP’s general secretary Bashir Jan said: “It is an ongoing struggle for female education initiated by our workers. We’ll keep on resisting any dictations to follow a particular brand of Islam. Whether I keep a beard or keep my shalwar higher or lower to my ankles is my personal issue. We won’t accept it and won’t accept it to be imposed on anyone else either.”
Now that the school is reopened, Aijaz said Syed Wahid has been selected as principal of the school. Wahid has been running a free tuition center in Banaras Colony for the past 16 years, even while he worked as a finance and budget officer at Port Qasim.
“To keep this school running, we need people who are passionate and do not care about security or protocol,” said Aijaz