When Malala Yousafzay was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, I of course, had to scour the web to find some info on her. And you should check out my post “Malala Yousafzay and Kailash Satyarthi and the Nobel Prize 2014” to read about how and why she earned the prize. As I read about her, I came across a line that mentioned that she was named after Malalai, an Afghan heroine. So, off I went again in search of info on Malalai. I was all set to gather and collate and draft something, when I came across this blog by Garen Ewing, http://www.garenewing.co.uk/angloafghanwar/biography/malalai.php, which I happily share with you here! Indeed, I am happy to celebrate two young women (Malala and Malalai) who dedicated their lives to working for human rights!!
Afghan heroine of Maiwand
While in Britain, no one has heard of her, in Afghanstan Malalai (or Malala) is a legend. Smaller facts in the story vary slightly, but although it is Ayub Khan who became known as the Victor of Maiwand, it is said that it was Malalai who actually saved the day.
She was a native of Khig, a tiny village on the edge of the Maiwand battlefield, and the daughter of a shepard. Both her father and fiancée joined with Ayub’s army in the attack on the British on July 27th 1880 (which some say was also her wedding day), and like many women, Malalai was there to help tend to the wounded and provide water and spare weapons. Eventually there came a point in the battle where the Afghan army, despite their superior numbers, started to lose morale and the tide seemed to be turning in favour of the British. Seeing this, Malalai took off her veil and shouted out:
|“Young love! If you do not fall in the battle of Maiwand,
By God, someone is saving you as a symbol of shame!”
This gave many of the Afghan fighters and ghazis a new resolve and they redoubled their efforts. At that moment one of the leading flag-bearers fell from a British bullet, and Malalai went forward and held up the flag (some versions say she made a flag out of her veil), singing a landai:
|“With a drop of my sweetheart’s blood,
Shed in defense of the Motherland,
Will I put a beauty spot on my forehead,
Such as would put to shame the rose in the garden,”
But then Malalai was herself struck down and killed. However, her words had spurred on her countrymen and soon the British lines gave way, broke and turned, leading to a disastrous retreat back to Kandahar and the biggest defeat for the Anglo-Indian army in the Second Afghan War. Ayub Khan afterwards gave a special honour to Malalai and she was buried at her village, where her grave can still be found.
British sources, unsurprisingly, do not mention Malalai. Her actions may not have been noticed by any of the British, or they may not have seemed as consequential as they were to the Afghans. Afghan women are very rarely mentioned at all in the reports and narratives of the war (Hensman mentions that one woman was found among the dead at Ahmed Khel). Interestingly, it is the Afghans who provide some of the evidence for one of the other legends born at the battle of Maiwand, as it is from one of Ayub’s artillery colonels that we learn some of the details of the famous last stand of the 66th, clutching to their company colours, in a Khig garden, where indeed the fallen bodies were later found to be lying.
As well as Malalai, there were many other factors in the Afgan’s favour on that day, including preferential terrain and positioning, superior numbers, skilled use of outnumbering artillery, and perhaps some bad decisions on the British side of things. But certainly her actions were enough to turn her into a national hero where she is still revered today. Schools, hospitals and even a women’s magazine have been named after her. It is also a popular girl’s name, with Malalai Joya a rare female voice in post-Taliban Afghan politics.
Article by Garen Ewing ©2005. Separate from other articles on this website, I grant a creative commons license so this article may be used elsewhere to spread the word about Malalai. Please include this credit line.
|Malalai of Maiwand|
|A drawing of Malalai holding Ayub Khan’s flag at the battlefield of Maiwand in July 1880|
Khig, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan
|Died||July 1880 (aged 18–19)
Maiwand, Kandahar province, Afghanistan
|Other names||Malalai Nia, Malala and Malalai of Maiwand|
|Known for||Battle of Maiwand|