Remembering Tahira Qazi: The Principal who died for her school-children
On the morning of December 16 2014, all hell broke loose and fear gripped the vicinity of ill fated Army Public School in Peshawar, when the sounds of gunshots and bloodcurdling screams filled the air. Militants barged in and opened indiscriminate fire on unarmed, innocent children; children who had congregated at a mutual place of learning, in hopes of becoming something worthwhile in the years to come. One child who survived the mass killing miraculously, recounted the horrific experience. “Their body parts and blood were flying like small pieces of cotton in the class room. Warm blood and flesh of my friends fell on my face and other parts of my body. It was horrible.” The boy who narrated this ghastly account to us continues to live as he kept quiet whilst the carnage took place and played dead, despite being shot twice in the arm.
The purpose of the above paragraph was not to replay the condemnable incident or engulf you in immense grief; but to paint a vivid picture of the unspeakable horror that victims of the Army Public School had to go through before departing for the afterlife. In such a ghastly, inhumane atmosphere where blood, destruction, human carcasses and bullets riddled the place, the natural reaction would have been to run for your life. Tahira Qazi, the Headmistress/Principal of the Army Public School, had that opportunity. According to eye witnesses, the stern principal was safely out of harm’s reach and had vacated the premises when she turned back and to her astonished colleagues, said decisively, “I can’t go into safety leaving my children among the beasts.”
Tahira Qazi knew what she was getting herself into when she marched right back into the massacre zone. Alone, one woman heading straight back into a building where 10 year olds were still getting shot at in the head, face, chest, arms and legs. She was heading straight back into a place where the sound of raging bullets and breaking glass, coupled with painful shrieks of innocent schoolchildren were quite audible. When she returned to the eye of the storm, her motherly instincts were active and duty was foremost on her mind. Trying to shepherd the young and helplessly frightened children out of harm’s way, she was apprehended by the coward militants and shot in the head.
Being the son of a dedicated, committed, honest and hard working schoolteacher myself, I cannot understand for the life of me, how merciless these animals were who ransacked APS. Tahira Qazi did not give up or let up on that fateful day. She could have just walked out of that massacre zone alive, instead chose to go back and save the students she had also been a mother to. Such selfless sacrifice cannot go unnoticed; it should not go unnoticed. Tahira Qazi’s story should be told and retold through documentaries, articles, tributes and speeches. This is but only a humble tribute from a son of the soil who still can’t come to grips with the fact that she is no longer with us and one who cannot fathom the degree of selflessness the woman demonstrated. Through all our tears, our grief, our sorrow and our pride, Tahira Qazi remains alive and well within our hearts.
Here is a small recollection of what the great woman’s last conversation with her son was like. Her son Ahmad disclosed the details as to what he spoke about to his mother on that fateful day, when he didn’t know they were having a conversation for the last time.
Ahmad told Mail Online: ‘Her vehicle came late that day, so we talked about different things. She was so happy for her students. She told me that she would have a busy day ahead. She left home for school around 8:45 am.’
At around 10:45 he heard about the attack and tried to call her.
He continued: ‘I started trying her cell number but for an hour it remained busy. I tried dozens of the time but couldn’t reach her and after an hour her cell turned off. Later her personal assistant (PA) told me that she was busy talking to parents of the students. Her PA told us that she had the opportunity to leave the school.’
Indeed in Tahira Qazi we have an excellent example of how resilient, courageous and selfless Pakistani women can be. In the face of terror, one woman stood up and dared to defy extremists laced with weapons. Qazi had nothing on her; no deadly instruments to threaten the beats she stood toe to toe with on that day. Ultimately, getting shot was what she must have had in her mind but the woman did rescue valuable lives and succeeded in her mission. Tahira Qazi was just like the captain who went down with her ship after whisking away the rest of the crew to safety.