In March 2009, the Taliban took over the beautiful Swat valley in Pakistan. Sufi Muhammad, a chief of the Taliban, termed the constitution of Pakistan as ‘Un-Islamic’ and demanded the enforcement of the Sharia law. More than one million people fled Swat. The extremists committed atrocities such as beheading people openly in streets who rejected their law. The education of girls was opposed. Hundreds of girls’ schools were destroyed by the militants, and thousands of girls left schools in fear. The militants announced through their radio that “neither an old or young girl will be allowed to go to school.”
In this valley lived a girl known as Malala who strongly opposed the acts of the extremists. She wanted all girls to get an education. After several warnings from the Taliban, Malala did not refuse to step back and became a strong advocate for girls’ education. Her father was a huge support behind her. Nevertheless, on October 9, 2012, she was shot in the head by the Taliban while she was on her way home from school. The attack of the Taliban was the consequence of raising her voice against the banning of girls education. The Taliban did not know that Malala would grow up to raise her voice against them on a bigger platform in front of the whole world. With the passage of time, Malala received the Nobel Prize for the rights of girls’ education and became the youngest Nobel laureate at the age of just seventeen.
The other part of Pakistan — Baluchistan, where I live—is a very conservative state. The female literacy of this state is just 27 percent, despite the fact that it is the largest province of Pakistan. The capital city of Baluchistan, Quetta, is similar to Swat because it is also a valley, and the presence of the Taliban is felt there too. Besides the Taliban, there are many other extremist groups active in the capital that attack girls’ schools. Around 70,000 girls have dropped out of schools in Baluchistan after passing the primary level. The main reason for this is the attacks of extremists, and the other reason is that there are only primary schools for them in their villages; they are not permitted to go to bigger cities for further study.
In Pakistan, especially Baluchistan, education is a male privilege. The patriarchal traditions of the people of Baluchistan have deprived the female generation of their right to educational opportunities. It can also be stated that, since the Taliban are active in this province, they have succeeded in brainwashing the people. The Taliban have preached that education for girls is ‘Haram’ (forbidden) in Islam and is a ‘sin’, but that is not the truth. Allah tells Muhammad (Peace be upon him) in the Quran that,
“Say: ‘Can those who have the knowledge and those who do not be alike?’ So only the wise do receive the admonition.” (Qur’an, az-Zumar 39:9)
The other reason for privilege in education is wealth. The poor cannot get as good an education as the rich. There are many children — I see them daily—who beg in the streets and cannot afford to go to school; one of the main factors of low literacy rates is poverty. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) estimated that in the last decade of the 20th century, 11 million children were working in the country, half of whom were under ten. The child laborers mostly work in the factories. The dark side of child labor can be demonstrated by the story of Iqbal Maish, who was tied up and forced by his owner in the factory to work twelve hours a day at his loom when he was only nine or ten. Iqbal fled the factory twice and campaigned for the rights of children but he was killed by the factory owner.
While interviewing a child laborer I asked him a very simple question: why he was not going to school. He replied with total innocence on his face, “Who will earn for my family?” I could not answer his question. It stuck in my mind and I started to think about other thousands of children begging in the streets rather than sitting in school and getting an education. This is not only the case in Pakistan, but in almost every developing and underdeveloped country. The neighboring countries of Pakistan – India, Afghanistan, and Iran – are also facing the fact that education is a privilege on either the basis of gender or wealth.
According to my opinion, education is never a privilege. It is a basic human right in the twenty-first century just like food, shelter, and protection. Education is as essential as breathing. Without education, we are blind and deaf. How are we supposed to see without eyes? How are we supposed to hear without ears? How are we supposed to speak without tongues? Education is as important to us as eyes, ears, and tongues. In this era, a blind and deaf person can do nothing except begging. The awareness created by education has countless benefits, not only personally but also socially. A knowledgeable person knows the rights of everyone. He is the backbone of the progress of his country. He is a role model for others.
It is the time for the developing and underdeveloped countries of the world to strengthen themselves with the power of education. There is nothing as powerful as the power of a pen. As stated by Malala,
“One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.”
We ought to take steps now to ensure education is a right for the upcoming generation rather than a privilege. Only then we will be able to witness a world with peace and less chaos.