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If Malala were an Indian

May 23, 2013


SO what are we going to tell Malala Yousafzai? How shall we break the news to her?

The elections in Pakistan are over. It was a historical event all right, not least because of the enormity of the opposition to it. One elected government handing over power to another set of elected politicians is a rare event for Pakistan.

Now the question is: how should the young Malala see the incoming prime minister’s reaching out to the Taliban? They are her tormentors but he wants to mend fences with them.

Much of the foreign invasion of Afghanistan was advertised as a measure to liberate the Malalas from the patriarchal country’s hand-reared mediaeval rulers. Are we looking at a U-turn ahead, on both sides of the Durand Line?

It was one of them, or one with their mindset that shot the Yousafzai girl in the head. Why is it laughable, which it is, to think they would be punished?

The world celebrated the braveheart’s heroic work in Swat, where she was spreading education in the tiny spaces spared by bomb shelters and religious atavism. She has recovered miraculously from the near-fatal wound. Resolute Malala. But there’s the other larger business to be transacted too.

Should we tell her that exigency of statecraft, restoring peace in the country, in the region, reviving the economy and so forth warrant the embracing of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Taliban with both hands, much as we abhor their agenda?

The story is not terribly unique to Pakistan. In fact, the cusp of the moment looks quite similar to the day in India in 1991-92 when the government in New Delhi secretly began dating the IMF to avert loudly announced fears of defaulting. The opposition helpfully trotted off to Ayodhya to move the focus from the undisclosed deal.

There is an invisible link between the Taliban and the IMF. They are both equipped to subvert democracy; one does it frontally, the other by the backdoor.

They are both self-righteously obsessed with corruption in their own ways claiming it is possible to eradicate chronic pelf and acute plunder without fixing the inequities that breed it.

Be it the zealous private militias eyeing their chance to collar dissent or the private carpetbaggers drooling at the crumbling economy, symbolised by the failing power grid and its distribution system in Pakistan — they can go hand in hand. When they do, the ‘good Taliban’ become a reality.

Hindutva leaders in India’s Gujarat state have showcased a smooth blending of right-wing religious street power with corporate interests. ‘Taliban’ is clearly not a Muslim thing. And it is not the only example to have succeeded in bludgeoning the people, election or no election.

The privatisation of power hasn’t worked in Delhi. But it’s looming in Pakistan. That’s only one example of the remedy that people in distress will be entitled to.

Malala was shot during the celebrated rule of a supposedly secular dispensation. Shias, Hazaras, eclectic Sunnis and, of course, the ubiquitous urban minorities — Hindus, Christians, Ahmadis were at the receiving end during five years of PPPs largely unremarkable rule.

The party didn’t carry out the crimes but can be blamed for the rise of the forces that did. The lot of the terrorised minorities in this case was not different from the fate inflicted on Malala’s many unsung comrades who have either fallen or are battling on against the daunting odds.

What if the girl from Swat were raised in India? She would be in the ranks of some seriously iconic women who are leading the fight on issues that are not too dissimilar to the ones confronting Pakistan. Gender justice, honour killing, protection of constitutional guarantees to the minorities, communalism and mob violence, depredation of the environment, corporate land grab, cornering of water and mineral resources by the ruling elite, criminal neglect of education and the transfer of healthcare budgets towards a militarised police state.

Malala would have loved working with INSAF (not the Pakistani party), which stands for Indian Social Action Forum. In the absence of a robust social democratic forum or even a remotely thriving left movement, many of the well-meaning potential cadres have become NGO activists.

INSAF is working with some 700 Indian NGOs, ranging from the protesters against a nuclear power plant in Koodunkulam in Tamil Nadu to a campaign to quash the Armed Forces Special Powers Act used by the army to inflict unbridled brutality in Kashmir and Manipur. INSAF works among Indian women, Adivasis, Dalits and Muslims with a secular and progressive agenda.

Recently India’s home ministry sealed the group’s accounts, saying its foreign funds were against India’s public interest. For a state that craves foreign funding to carry out its well-documented anti-poor agenda this was not a surprising move.

Malala would notice the similarities between the Taliban and a notionally working democracy. A rule thrown at the NGOs reads like the future of any Third World country.

According to the rule, the government arrogates to itself the power to take action against any group that “habitually indulges in bandhs, hartals, rasta roko, rail roko, or jail bharo” — all non-violent and democratic forms of protest, a tactic that emerged from India’s freedom struggle and which is recognised around the world as a legitimate form of protest.

Malala Yousafzai may find it tricky to choose between the frontal assault of the Taliban, and the sleight of hand of a widely lauded democracy.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.