My niece Maleeha is as pretty as a teenager can be. She goes to one of the better schools in Mumbai and has had a cultured Muslim upbringing at home. She wears shorts and hangs about her pals at the Phoenix Mills mall and the newly opened gaming parlour,Smaaash. She was just gifted her first Louis Vuitton purse for her birthday this summer. This year,she begins cramming for her dreaded 10th grade. Her favourite colour,among others,is pink.
Maleeha looks a lot like Malala Yousafzai. In fact,they could be twins. Maleeha,Malala.
Malala today enjoys privileges of another kind. She is being educated in England,sponsored by their government.
On her 16th birthday,she spoke at the United Nations headquarters in New York in front of world leaders. Her speech was telecast globally and youngsters of almost every country present at the assembly sang Happy Birthday for her. But Malala has taken a long and painful road here,one stained with her own blood.
The daughter of a teacher,Malala grew up in the once-beautiful Swat Valley of Pakistan,what the country calls the Switzerland of the East. The area is now occupied by Taliban militants where women have been banned from work,visiting a hospital or even a tailor. Young girls are stoned,acid is thrown on their faces,or they are simply killed if they are seen going to school.
Malala was shot in the head last October at point-blank range while in a school bus. She was campaigning for girls right to education. She was flown by international peacekeepers to a Birmingham hospital and survived. She hopes her rights will survive bigotry too.
Midway through her moving and empowering speech at the UNs special session last week,Malala said all that was needed to change the world was one child,one teacher,one book and one pen.
She began her speech as faithful Muslims begin a new task,by saying Bismillah ir Rahman ir Rahim. She stood on the podium,both demure and confident at once,her rosy youth enhanced by a pink dupatta she wore on her head. She then brought attention to a scarf that was once owned by Benazir Bhutto shahid,the first and only woman prime minister of Pakistan. It was pink.
Malala Yousufzai has just raised the bar for that colour. She has used its softness to make an impassioned speech,its inherent femininity to remind world leaders of the rights of women,its youthfulness and nurturing to draw attention to basic privileges many young girls across the world are deprived of school,playgrounds or even lipstick.
When we wear what we do to present a point of view,we call it fashion. All fashion is then a political engagement.
On Malalas young and resolute
frame,pink made a compelling statement. With great verve,it lived up to its role as a gender signifier and laid bare on the worlds stage a womans challenges,achievements,aspirations and struggles. Pink made Malalas journey.
Intrinsically perhaps,Malala knew her scarf had a voice of its own.