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Crusaders for child rights

Crusaders for child rights
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Crusaders for child rights, An Indian and a Pakistani being jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize this year brings the focus on South Asia, world’s...

An Indian and a Pakistani being jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize this year brings the focus on South Asia, world’s largest hub of the young, millions of whom are deprived of home, healthcare and education.

The choice of Kailash Satyarthi, a crusader of children’s rights who had been five years in running (unknown to most Indians), and Malala Yousafzai, the teenage brave heart who had to be a year older (still, the youngest ever) to get it, emphasises that in any society, education and development cannot happen without peace.

Both India and Pakistan have reasons to be proud, as well as feel embarrassed. India, because it is the world’s second-largest hub of child slavery and illegal labour, and Pakistan because Malala, shot grievously in the head in 2012 by her elder compatriots and now living in Britain, cannot return home.

Of the world’s 165 million child labourers, 65 million are in India. Albeit inadequate, India is doing something about it, both at the state and the non-governmental levels. Satyarthi has pointed out that the fight against child slavery began with India. It has yet to catch on in many developed countries, where slavery thrives.

His is a civil-society initiative. President Pranab Mukherjee asked that the Nobel to Satyarthi be seen as “recognition of the contributions of India’s vibrant civil society.”

While Indians have by and large welcomed the eighth Nobel Laureate among them, in Pakistan, critical and angry voices are many. Pakistan has been unable to honour its first Nobel winner, Dr Abdus Salam, who left the country on being persecuted after his Ahmedi community was declared non-Muslim. He died a heart-broken man in France.

The Taliban who attempted to kill Malala remains strong and defiant despite a military operation now underway. One of their leading lights is Mullah Fazlullah on whose diktat Malala was attacked. The country is divided between those who love Malala and those who love the Taliban. Najam Sethi, Editor of the reputed Friday Times dissects Pakistan’s dilemma: “Some Muslims argue that the Western powers have elevated her to this status as a “pawn” in their new crusades against Islam. But this line of thinking forgets that it is the Taliban and not the West who “created” her as such a symbol. It is the Taliban who first recognised Malala as a powerful symbol of resistance to their bloody crusades against education, human rights and freedom. They warned her to desist from preaching and practising children’s right to education. She knew the consequences of defiance. Yet she refused to heed their warning. When the Pakistani media began to lionise her, the Taliban tried to kill her. Now they say they will target her if she returns to Pakistan.”

He further argues: “Some Muslims ask why dozens of innocent children who were orphaned by American drones in FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) were not similarly acknowledged and honoured for their plight. They say this reflects the political ideology of Western imperialism in choosing which victim to honour. But this line of thinking forgets that hundreds of innocent children were killed or orphaned by the Taliban all over Pakistan when their bombs went off in schools and market places and mosques and parks and buses. If there was a “conspiracy” to make Malala a national heroine, it should be laid at the door of the Taliban.”

There is further consternation in Pakistan as an Indian real estate developer has ventured on a project to produce a biographical film on Malala. Vijay Jaju, 37, says he was moved by Malala’s awe-inspiring speech at United Nations last year and decided to make a film titled on her pseudonym, Gul Makai. The title means corn flower, and it's the name Malala used for writing her blog.

The 180-minute film is already in the making. Jaju claims that Malala is “positive” about the film. Although he does not disclose it for security reasons, reports say that Bangladeshi actor Fatima Sheikh is playing Malala’s role. Mukesh Rishi plays Mullah Fazlullah. Veteran Om Puri plays General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, who was Pakistan Army’s Chief when Malala was attacked. Divya Dutta plays Malala’s mother. Jaju is in talks with actor Atul Kulkarni to play Malala’s father. Many other big names are reportedly in the project.

Directed by Amjad Khan, more than half of the biopic has been shot in Gandhiham, Gujarat. The remaining part will be shot in northern India next month. The film is slated to be released in April 2015. The profit from the film will either be donated to the Malala Fund or spent in any way Malala pleases to.

Since the film is being made in India by Indians, the reaction to the October 12 news, partially, but significantly, pertains to India. We have some readers’ reactions in Dawn newspaper: “Bravo, recognition in the enemy country but not in Pakistan. Hope she will not be branded as an Indian agent after release of this film.”

“A story worthy of a movie, however a Pakistani movie maker should have done it first. Let’s see if it is shown in Pakistani theaters, and if so then the nut cases won't protest.” “Great, may be, she can join BJP.” “Bollywood is a business. No one will make a movie to tell a story. It must make business sense.”

There are some responses hostile to Malala like this one: “After having been shot by Taliban, taken to hospital and then flown to UK, what has Malala done for the children of any country in the world, leave alone Pakistan? She has done nothing but collected money and awards whereas there are dozens of girls who have gone through hardships 1,000 times greater than Malala.”

“When a child of seventeen is given the Nobel peace prize in a world raging with war it only underscores how meaningless this award is. Malala is a name associated with victory for the Taliban as these tyrants ran her and her family far from the children of Islam into the arms of the Christian West where sex drugs and rock and roll are the menu de jour! The Nobel is a Western deity given to Pakistan as a token of their superiority, as if the great nation of Pakistan needs any favours from the West.”

It is a diametric divide. People of Pakistan can either love Malala, and all that she stands for, and all the accolades showered upon her since her terrible ordeal in 2012, or despise her, ridicule her, and get frustrated with every new award bestowed upon her.

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