How they are now

Since it came up, I’ll just share the 2012 news about how Malala’s classmates recovered from being shot on that little bus going home from school.

“Which one is Malala?” he barked. Terrified, the girls fell silent. Malala Yousafzai was their 15-year-old schoolmate, a well-known children’s rights advocate who frequently challenged the Pakistani Taliban’s stance against girls education. She was sitting to Shazia’s right. “I think we must have looked at her,” admits Shazia. “We didn’t say anything, but we must have looked, because then he shot her. He shot her in the head.” Shazia screamed when she saw Malala slump forward. The gunman turned and shot Shazia twice, just below her left collarbone, and in her left hand when she tried to protect herself. Then he aimed his Chinese-made imitation Colt 45 at Kainat Riaz, the 16-year-old 10th grader sitting to Shazia’s left. He shot her in the shoulder, then dropped off the back of the truck and disappeared.

They both recovered.

Shazia and Kainat, however, returned to the Kushal School and College for girls on Nov. 29, determined to continue their education no matter the threat. “I love to study, and nothing will stop me, not even a bullet,” Kainat told TIME on her first day back in class. Shazia was equally defiant: “Even if they attack me three more times, I will always go back to school.”

Their courage is awe-inspiring, but it would be so much better if they didn’t need courage to go to school. I would be so happy to do without any awe or inspiration in exchange for a world where girls can go to school and atheists can utter their thoughts without needing heroic courage.

Shazia and Kainat are true illustrations of how Malala is no outlier, but rather an example of the kind of students coming out of Khushal school: courageous, intelligent and articulate. Samar Minallah Khan, a documentary filmmaker who filmed the school in 2010, was astounded by the ambition and character of all the girls she met. “There has to be something exceptional going on with either the school or the person running the school if all these girls are as confident, as inspiring and as courageous as Malala,” says Khan.

Maybe the credit goes to the Taliban. What a horrible thought.

Both still struggle with fear, and how to quell the panic that rises every time the memories come flooding back. Kainat, a slim, pretty girl with a ready smile and gemstone-flecked glasses, has trouble sleeping. Still, she says, the attack has strengthened her determination to fight for girls’ education. Before the shooting it was always something abstract—after all, she is one of the lucky ones, with a family willing to pay for her education all the way through graduation. Now that she has seen first hand how far some people are willing to go to take away that right, she knows what is at stake. “I feel myself stronger now,” she says, as she sits on a traditional rope bed in her family’s high-walled courtyard. “It was an unfortunate situation, but it gave me courage. It made me realize that it is the duty of every girl to encourage education. Now that Malala is in the UK, we have to fulfill her mission.”

We want a world where girls are secure enough to be bratty spoiled teenagers who don’t need that kind of strength.


  1. says

    I wonder why the NRA’s spokesperson hasn’t spoken up yet, to point out that if the students had AK-47s they could have defended themselves against a lone gunman with a mere .45.

    Yeah, I gotta say the US’ attempts in the 50s to “civilize Afghanistan” followed by the Soviet attempt, and the second US attempt … hasn’t worked very well. 🙁

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