Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Malalai of Maiwand

The setting for Dr Watson's injuries (from the Sherlock Holmes stories) was on the Maiwand battlefield, one of the principle battles of the Second Anglo-Afghan War. Whilst the character was clearly fiction, the battle was real and one of the heroes of that battle was a woman, killed on the battlefiled, known as Malalai of Maiwand د معيړند ملالۍ. Although it is Ayub Khan who became known as the Victor of Maiwand, it is said that it was Malalai (or Malala) who actually saved the day.

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 so it is interesting that Afghan men who should honour her actions and turn her into a national hero who is still revered today. 

Malalai came from Khig, a small village not far from the Maiwand battlefield, and was the daughter of a shepard. Both her father and fiancée had 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 shouted out:

که په میـــوند کـې شهـــید نـــه شـــوی
خدایګو ﻻلـیه بـې ننـګۍ ته دی سـاتینه
"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 landay:

خــــال بـــه دیـــار لـــه ویـــنو کیــــږدم
چــــې شینکي باغ کې ګــــل ګلاب وشــــرمویـنه
که په میـــــوند کـــې شهـــید نـــه شـــوی
ګو ﻻلــــیه بې ننـــګۍ ته دي ســـاتینه
"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.

Malalai - Afghan Heroine of Maiwand by Garen C Ewing licensed under Creative Commons

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