Honour and Ignore

By Hasan Altaf in Economic and Political Weekly

Excerpts – The complete article is here.

A Pakistani winning a Nobel Prize: This year, Malala Yousafzai has entered a very select club. There’s only one other member. Amid all the celebration of this achievement, his story should be remembered now, for the warning it offers to the Nobel committee, the optimistic international community, the hard-working activists, the Twitter-happy politicians, and all those hopeful schoolgirls cutting cakes in Mingora. It might, on the other hand, provide some comfort to those who are unhappy with the decision.


In the meantime, though: Yousafzai still cannot return safely to the country rushing to bask in her aura. Her book remains banned by many institutions. The Government of Pakistan spends less than almost any other in the world on the education of its children. Its legal, political, cultural and social systems continue to denigrate, weaken, and humiliate women at almost every turn. In court, a woman’s testimony is not granted the same weight as a man’s; only one province has even introduced legislation regarding domestic violence; Pakistan is the second-worst country in the world in terms of gender disparity. As they did with Dr Salam, the government and society can take pride in their new laureate, celebrate, and then put her on a shelf and move on.


Pakistan needs hope, in spades, but seems to have forgotten that it is a tool. Instead, Pakistan treats hope as lucre: The temptation is just to get it, hoard it, maybe put it on a stamp. In this country, hope is what you collect to insulate yourself from everything else in Pandora’s box. It is becoming a commodity as invaluable and expensive as a generator in a country where utility companies are notorious failures; you have to be able to flip your own switch. The Nobel is, for Yousafzai, an honour; a Nobel for Yousafzai is, for Pakistan, just another shipment of fuel. It’ll keep the lights on a little while longer.

This comment appeared in Economic and Political Weekly on November 1, 2014.

Hasan Altaf is a writer currently based in Lahore whose work has appeared in Guernica, Dawn and Seminar.

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  • indiajones
    Posted at 16:42h, 06 November Reply

    I find it awful to bring forth such a simile, but at the moment I can think of no other; your write-up is overwrought with the kind of self-flagellation, that is often concurrent with Muharram that just passed.
    The old paradigms of imparting education have all but disappeared. It is now education that has to reach the kids, of every age and sex, and even if they are in the remotest of villages. The only plus point of school and collegiate education as it exists, is that it teaches kids the bonhomie and camaraderie that is essential to get along with fellow humans. In South Asia, we do need to tweak the way education is imparted, to reach the less privileged, which means getting it across and beyond the children of parents who can afford to give a superior general education. Religious denominations too have to take a back seat !

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 08:18h, 07 November

      indiajones: There can be little disagreement with your position on education. But, at the same time, I don’t read the article as saying that education is not important. It seems to be making the claim that even after all the hoopla about Malala, the Pakistan government will do very little in real terms. And that, in my view, is justifies the lament given that no one individual can force the hand of the Pakistani government. A collective political struggle is needed with or without Malala.

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