Belonging to the upper Chitral valley, Baroghal – Tahira begum (26) is the first educated woman in the valley. This is the story of sheer commitment and courage of a relentless woman who defied all boundaries to gain an education and make efforts to turn the tide of illiteracy in the valley of Baroghal.
Her community has generally accorded very little to no importance to education. Their traditional values dictate a culture that encourages early marriages of young girls. They grow up knowing they will be married off young so they have accepted that fate for themselves. Tahira, however, was different. In a bid to avoid an early marriage she decided to get an education and simultaneously steer the course of direction for the countless young women in her community who were resigned to a similar fate. Her struggles have been manifold but her resolution to deter and challenge the status quo remains undefeated.
Tahira had to fight not just the traditional mindset but also the disadvantage, the arduous terrain the valley had to offer. The Baroghal valley is beautiful, but it comes with its share of harsh terrain and conditions. This makes the life of the residents far from easy. The region experiences very harsh weather during the winter months, so much so that it receives five to six feet of snow every year. The snow lasts for around six to seven months. As a result, the valley becomes completely isolated from the rest of the regions, and all communication is cut off.
With significant disturbance for extended periods, education has taken a backseat among the residents. It has been reported that there is only one primary school within the valley (representing how little significance is attached to investment in education), for middle and high schools the people have to travel to other areas. However, not everyone can afford to do that, and neither is everyone willing to go the extra mile for the sake of education. Tahira was different, she set her mind on her goals and despite all the hardships she faced, she did not back down.
Tahira got her early education from a primary school in Baroghal. After the primary, she passed her middle from Shamshal and stayed in a hostel in Rawalpindi for Matric. After this, she graduated from Hunza, got her B-Ed from Hazara University, and her Master’s degree from Karakoram International University.
However, getting these degrees was not as easy a milestone as it seems. As Tahira narrates, “I got an education from the primary school in Baroghal. It was the only school in the valley at that time.” What aided her journey was the unconditional support of her father and brother who facilitated her educational pursuits. After her primary education ended, she had no option but to travel to the nearest village – the closest of which was Shamshal, a village in Hunza that was 10-12 hours away on foot. Reaching the village was a pursuit in itself as the trip entailed an overnight journey, by morning they would reach the Drokht glacier which they would amass after a 5-6 hours ride on the horses. After this, they would travel a further 2-3 hours on foot and finally reach the valley.
Once her education from middle school was completed, she traveled once again, this time to Rawalpindi for Matric, and then moved on to Hunza for her last leg of education. Barring primary schooling, all her degrees involved traveling away from home. What sets her apart from the rest of the girls in her community is her dedication to excel, to be more than just a girl whose life aim is to get married. While there may be many girls who like Tahira want to get an education, the lack of institutions in the valley and lack of familial support in other cases have barred their chances at a different life.
This is what Tahira aims to change. She wants the girls of her community to have the chances and opportunities she did not have. She is married now and works along with her husband in her efforts to raise awareness regarding the importance of education in her community and focus the attention of the State and non-government organizations on the lack of educational opportunities available in the valley. She also uses V-logs as a form of information dissemination. Tahira aims to change this very mindset, she wants people to extend importance to education. She insists that there is more to life than just getting married and having children.
She has also directed her efforts towards improving the lives of local women and empowering them. When asked about the economic activities of the people of her area, she stated they usually rely upon livestock. The men of the family go for construction work in Gilgit. Before the beginning of winter, residents of the valley go to Chitral to sell yaks so that they can purchase household items as they remain stranded in the valley throughout the five months of winter. While the women tend to livestock and keep busy with household chores along with producing intricate handicrafts out of wool.
To empower women, Tahira, with support from the Agha Khan Rural Support Program (AKRSP), has tried to facilitate and provide opportunities for training the residents, particularly women to get the necessary skills but she does not think that is enough. According to her, the government plays minimum to no role in her region, which leaves a gap for the NGOs to fill the vacuum that the government has left. Women should be given opportunities to access education and learn skills. She adds that she is forever ready to improve the conditions of her people and work committedly to it.
Apart from creating awareness in the community regarding education, Tahira is also trying to diminish the rising trend of drug usage among her people and to raise awareness against their use. According to her, drug usage has increased exorbitantly among the children, women, and elderly in the valley. A rationale for this usage is blamed on the lack of co-curricular activities available to the locals which diverts them to this. This drug usage, however, is detrimental to health and has immense financial repercussions.
She stated that the government should play a role in this regard, they should introduce economic opportunities for the people so that they can work towards earning a livelihood instead of relying upon drugs in their free time. There is also a need to introduce extra-curricular activities in the community that engage the locals. This way they will stay busy and their economic conditions will also improve. She thinks that Baroghal is the ideal place for livestock rearing and tourism, but the people need training on the newest technology that will help them and give them an edge over the rest. Training regarding tourism and how to rake up maximum benefits on that front should also be introduced.
Tahira’s battle against the system is directed on multiple fronts. She is working to raise awareness and increase educational opportunities for women, she also wants to empower them enough that they may become self-sufficient. She is also working consistently towards reducing drug usage in her community. Tahira is the perfect embodiment of an individual, who despite all odds achieved what she set out to do. However, she did not just stop there, she is using her position, her privilege for the sake of her community so that they may follow suit. She indeed is the relentless young woman that has made residents of Baroghal valley proud.