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South Asia needs more bold voices like Malala, says Fatima Bhutto

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South Asia needs more bold voices like Malala, says Fatima Bhutto
South Asia needs more bold voices like Malala, says Fatima Bhutto

By Shilpa Raina

New Delhi – Not just Pakistan, but the entire subcontinent, needs independent and bold voices like that of Malala Yousufzai, the Pakistani teenager who fearlessly took on the Taliban, to come to the forefront, says Pakistani author Fatima Bhutto, niece of assassinated former premier Benazir Bhutto.

Fatima, known as a fearless and frank voice herself, says the “bold and clear-minded” voices should come from the interiors and not be the voices of city bred upper class people.

Speaking to IANS during a visit here to promote her debut fiction novel, “The Shadow of the Crescent Moon”, published by Penguin, the 31-year-old member of Pakistan’s top political family said her “frankness” does make her vulnerable to anti-social elements, but she points out that Pakistan needs more “bold” voices to come to the forefront.

“I think the nice thing with Malala is that she is a fresh new voice unlike other women we are used to seeing from our part of the country. The city voices are those who come from certain backgrounds and speak English because they went to international schools,” Fatima Bhutto said.

“Malala’s voice is independent, clear-minded and so I think we would like to see more of such voices from India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka,” Fatima told IANS.

Malala Yousufzai, 16, was shot in the head and neck by the Taliban for advocating girls’ education in Pakistan. She has been given numerous awards, including the Sakharov Prize, for championing the cause of women’s education and empowerment and has also been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize this year.

Fatima feels that women bear the brunt during any turbulence in society – in the form of rapes and molestations, with patriarchy playing its part in keeping them subjugated.

“It isn’t easy to be a woman anywhere in the globe. Women often struggle, and they are the first point of contact for any turbulence or turmoil, force or violence. If there is destabilisation in any country, women are automatically affected,” Fatima said.

“It isn’t easy to be a woman in Pakistan either, and it is the same across South Asia. Millions and millions of women are beaten down by the system which is political, economical, social and patriarchal,” said Fatima, the granddaughter of former Pakistani prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

Her latest novel is set in the Waziristan conflict zone with Afghanistan on the other side of the border. The story chronicles the journey of three brothers with two women, Mina and Samarra, playing pivotal roles.

The women in her novel are not meek and dominated, says Fatima.

“I think we have a singular image of Waziristan, especially when it comes to women. People get this impression that women from this region must be very meek and subservient,” Bhutto said.

“But they aren’t. It is incredible to see the strength of women coming from these turbulent regions where they struggle every day for their existence,” she said. Though the characters in her novel are fictional, the situations are inspired from what all she observed during her early journalistic sojourns in the area.

Representing the young voice from Pakistan, Fatima is best known for her forthright opinions, a taste of which the world received with her controversial “Songs Of Blood And Sword” on the life of her slain father Murtaza in which she had accused her aunt, Benazir, for covering up the 1996 killing.

In fact, her open criticism of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party too had made the headlines.

Aware of the political baggage her surname carries, Bhutto has always been clear about not treading the political path her family took.

She doesn’t feel the burden either.

“I don’t feel it as a burden, weight or legacy. What I have taken from them is values and compassion,” she said.

But what she often gets emotional about is her state of being “stateless” at some point in her life when she, along with her father, moved from country to country. During her childhood, Fatima lived as an exile in Syria and other countries with her father, who was forced to flee Pakistan after Zia Ul-Haq came to power.

“The idea of home for me has never been simple and the idea of belonging to me has never been easy,” she said.

“I think anyone who has lived in exile or as a migrant will always feel at home everywhere, and they will also feel that they don’t belong anywhere. It is a strange condition, always lived in between places or spaces,” she concluded.

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