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The heroes we need again at home

india Updated: Oct 13, 2012 22:12 IST

I don’t think anyone can think about 14-year-old schoolgirl Malala Yousufzai or 23-year-old Afghan rapper Susan Firouz without tears in their eyes. I feel sure that Hazrat Khadija, the first Muslim, would have upheld their desire to make something of their lives. Was she not an independent Arab woman of substance, greatly respected in her 7th century society for her intelligence, wealth and achievement? But how are we, the people of India, in a position to make pronouncements on others? Our own girls are molested more and more, while those who should support their human rights are not doing so.

If we look at the history of Hindu reform, for instance, we repeatedly find that it is the enlightened men who achieved good change through their moral gallantry and social courage in confronting their own orthodoxy.

This is also the case with Malala’s father, Ziauddin Yousufzai, who ran a girl’s school and Susan Firouz’s father, who told BBC that he, his wife and Susan’s sisters support her fully. It is Susan in fact, who is the sole breadwinner for her family of five. They fled to Iran in the 90s as refugees but are back in their country now and Susan reportedly records her music in a small studio in Kabul.

Not so long ago, I met a group of Afghan women in Delhi who had come for a workshop in legal rights. One of them had such a noble face and such dignified bearing that she looked a leader. And indeed she had held a very high position in civil administration, until one day she was told to go home. She then held sewing classes for women and girls and under cover of that, taught them to read and write. One of the ladies in that visiting group, tortured by the suffering of lives blocked from living, began to weep silently. Two others held her gently until she calmed down. What did I, the modern Indian woman do?

I sat dumb with pity and terror, painfully aware of the cultural difference that my country next door let me and many others have a life. What’s happening with us today is not a battle for women alone. We need all the good, gallant and brave men in India to protest strongly and publicly against those who condone rapists and molesters.

We know you’re there and we know what your fathers — our fathers —achieved for human rights in India.

Renuka Narayanan writes on religion and culture