‘Tere mathey pe ye aanchal bahot hi khoob hai lekin/ Tu is aanchal se ik parcham bana leti to achcha tha/ (Your headscarf looks lovely, my dear, but yield! Why not make a flag from it for the battlefield?)’
THE poem by Majaaz Lucknavi belongs to the 1930s but it seems to echo an event in distant Afghanistan half a century before.
Malalai of Maiwand died on the battlefield in July 1880 when she was 17 years old, engaging British and Indian troops in the Second Afghan War. It is said that Malalai — also spelled and pronounced as Malala — actually fashioned a flag from her veil to rally her Afghan compatriots in the do-or-die struggle.
She was a much-loved poet too. Her exhortation, as she mustered support for Ayub Khan, the charismatic Afghan commander and son of the deposed amir, was recorded for posterity thus:
“Young love! If you don’t fall in the battle of Maiwand, By God, someone is saving you as a symbol of shame!”
The historic battle saw a rout of the combined Indian and British troops, their ranks depleted of seasoned warriors after 1857. The Maiwand battle was a mandatory topic in the Senior Cambridge history course for years.
Was Majaaz, separated by decades from the battle of Maiwand, inspired by the legend of Malalai to pen his clarion call to his beloved, and thereby to all women? It is hard to tell.
But he did sway a generation of Indian women to crop their veils into flags to fight foreign occupation. Maiwand’s battle cry has inspired generations of Afghan women. According to an interview Malala Yousufzai gave a couple of years ago, she is a fan of Malalai of Maiwand and was named after her.
There was another Malala to inspire the 15-year-old heroine of Swat. Stories of Malalai Joya’s fight against male barbarism abound in contemporary Afghan lore.
Winning a parliament seat in 2005, Malalai Joya could have chosen an easy, comfortable life. She decided instead to lend her powerful voice to fight those among her fellow deputies she identified as regressive, anti-women warlords. Her enemies charged her with being a communist and successfully had her evicted from parliament.
Addressing an international peace conference in Australia last month, Malalai Joya, already a celebrated author of a book on Afghan women, pulled no punches to highlight international connivance in the tragedy that befell her country.
“The black clouds of war are overshadowing our earth,” she told the Swan Island Peace Convergence 2012. “The US, depending upon the dirtiest fundamentalists forces such as Al Qaeda and its likes has pushed Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan into disaster and deviated the uprisings against fundamentalism and dictatorship by handing the leadership to its fundamentalist lackeys; and they are now in the process of destroying Syria too.”
Not only is Malalai Joya regarded as a role model by the Yousufzai scion, there is evidence of a Marxist underpinning that runs the risk of being overlooked in the teenaged girl’s ideological shaping.
A picture in which she is seen with a poster of Lenin and Trotsky should indicate her proximity to some of the most ideologically groomed bunch of men and women in Swat. They are members of the International Marxist Tendency (IMT), which condemns religious extremism and imperialism equally.
We have been told of Malala’s blogs and interviews with global news groups, but her involvement with the Marxists of Swat (of all the places) tends to be ignored.
As an IMT release suggests, Malala Yousufzai attended its National Marxist Youth School in Swat in July this year. Scores of participants came from across distant provinces of Pakistan. The scale of their commitment is heart-warming. The irony is stark. The spectacle of mighty politicians in Islamabad, running scared of lurking assassins despite layers of security jostles with the rising star (Imran Khan) on Pakistan’s political firmament whose desire to visit the troubled areas becomes heavy weather.
And here we have a group of girls and boys, men and women, armed with nothing more than unwavering dedication to bring change where the mighty fear to tread. They go about their business without the fanfare a visit to Swat involves.
They remind me of the late communist activist Hriday Nath Wanchoo who stood his ground in Srinagar with nothing but his zeal to fight for the human rights of Hindus and Muslims when the rest of his fellow Kashmiri pandits were fleeing the Valley.
Titled Red Flags in Taliban Territory, Imran Kamyana’s piece on IMT’s website is instructive. Swat, he says, is known for religious extremism and the Taliban. “Many comrades themselves became victims of this religious terrorism including one comrade who was shot and had eight bullets in him from a G-3 rifle. Only his willpower and hatred against the cruelty of the state and the Taliban kept him alive.”
In another incident the Taliban killed 14 people in one village and hanged their bodies from trees, declaring that nobody could touch them. Only two dared to bury the bodies. Both became leading members of the IMT. Clearly, Malala’s battle plan was pinned on a simple ground assault of an alternate worldview. It had no room for inhuman drones or gun-toting fanatics. Malala’s kindred spirits are legion.
One person she has a striking resemblance to, in my view, is Rachel Corrie, the American girl who single-handedly unnerved the Israeli army by not being afraid to be crushed by their bulldozers for a just cause. That was also the battle plan of Maiwand’s heroine.
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi. firstname.lastname@example.org