By Syeda Tuba Anwar
The memory of my first day at school is still fresh in my mind. I remember my mother gushed about how wonderful I looked in the white uniform. My hair was combed neatly and my lunch box filled with love from my mother’s kitchen. My father dropped me to school. I remember walking in the classroom and feeling fascinated seeing the beautiful hand cut drawings, bursting with colors and filling me with curiosity to learn, to know more. Fortunately for me, I made it through my first day & years later I passed out of school with all the knowledge I could hold then.
Unfortunately, there were 125 students who were enrolled in school that never made it through. Not because they couldn’t study, or they dropped out, but because they were martyred in cold blood. December 16, 2014- when on a cold morning, parents sent their children to Army Public School Peshawar in a routinely manner, little did they know that they will never be seeing their innocent flowers ever again. That day, six terrorist gunmen stormed inside the school, point shooting whatever moved in front of them. Every child that lost his life was special. Every child had a story that remains incomplete. In the dreadfully long list of 144 people, mostly school children who were martyred, I can never erase the name of Khaula Bibi from my mind or heart, the only female student who lost her life in this unfathomable tragedy.
Khaula was not just the only female pupil but she was also the youngest martyr of the APS attack. She was six years old, yet it did not undermine her blooming abilities, passion & outspoken nature. She loved reading and even at a tender age, she spoke about the importance of schools and education. The most painful part of Khaula’s story is that she was enrolled a day before the attack and it was her first day at school when the nightmare unfolded. She was in the computer lab of the college wing, completing the admission form formalities with her father when gunshots were heard. Soon, Madam Shahnaz, a school teacher came running and told Khaula’s father, Altaf Hussain that the school was under attack and the terrorists were killing everyone. Mr. Altaf Hussain ran to engage the gunmen from coming upstairs and was shot twice, fell unconscious. Khaula along with Madam Shahnaz was killed despite her father’s efforts to save her. Her father was on ventilator and could not attend her funeral either.
Every year when school begins, and I watch pupil on their first day of school, it reminds me of Khaula. It reminds me of her eagerness & happiness to join the school where her siblings were studying, it reminds me of the fright a six year old would have felt with a beastly terrorist on her head, it reminds me of the pain and fear those vulnerable children suffered. It makes me ponder on our weakness and how easily our enemies can manipulate them. Those terrorists took many innocent lives that day, the lives that were too fragile to defend themselves. They deprived 144 families of happiness & etched irrecoverable loss in their hearts.
While no words, actions or amount can ever compensate the loss endured, it is important that the Government makes APS attack inquiry report public. This is the least that should be done on the third anniversary of this fatal event. The government owes answers to the families of the martyred and to the nation. As a resilient country, we have always survived the deadliest attacks, rose up after grave depressions, instability, diversions, and divisions. It is because of the innate strength we harbor, the strength of sharing pain to maintain the equilibrium. We need to apportion responsibility and accept the failures as it is the only way to ensure security from future mortal attacks.
The APS massacre has traumatized the nation beyond words. It has led mothers to question the safety of their children, their generations. Years from now, when I send my daughter to school, I will be thinking about Khaula Bibi & I will pray that no mother, family, or nation has to endure such excruciating pain.
-The smallest coffins are the heaviest-