Daughters of slain journalist strive for a better future
PESHAWAR: Fourth-grader Saira Hayat was only four years old when unidentified people killed her father Hayatullah, a prominent journalist, on June 16, 2006 in North Waziristan Agency. A year later, Saira’s mother died in a bomb blast which targeted their house, leaving her, her two sisters and two brothers orphaned.
The tragedy that befell the five siblings was life changing. With the help of relatives and their father’s colleagues, they have managed to pull themselves together and fight for a brighter future.
Today Saira is studying at one of Peshawar’s most reputed schools, Frontier Model School. She and her two sisters feature among the institution’s shining stars for their extraordinary achievements and performance in academic and extra-curricular activities.
Leaving everything behind
Narrating how her family was forced to flee North Waziristan, Saira tells The Express Tribune her father was kidnapped on December 5, 2005 and his bullet-riddled body was found six months later.
“After killing my father, the assailants planted a bomb outside our house in NWA on November 17, 2007 and killed my mother as well,” says Saira.
According to Saira, Hayat who wrote extensively on al Qaeda, Taliban and fighting among tribes in Waziristan, had told his wife that his life was in danger and had revealed the names of the people who had been threatening him. “This is why my mother was killed,” she says, adding their house was destroyed in the blast and the siblings moved to Peshawar in 2009 with their uncle.
“We ran for lives and settled in Peshawar in search of peace,” recalls Saira, who has won a gold medal in her school for outstanding academic performance.
A helping hand
Since Hayat’s assassination, his children have been receiving Rs5,000 in monthly stipends from Nawai-e-Waqt group, the publication he contributed to. The newspaper’s former publisher, the late Majid Nizami, had announced the stipend and also paid for Hayat’s funeral.
Moreover, after an investigation into the journalist’s death, Peshawar High Court’s Justice (retd) Ahmad Raza Khan held the federal government responsible for bearing the expenditures of Hayat’s children.
The family has been receiving a grant from the government and Hayat’s brother Ihsan Ahmad along with friends and colleagues. The aid has been utilised to construct a house for the family in the provincial capital and send the children to school.
Saira’s elder sister Naila has also won a gold medal for her academic performance. When asked if she would want to go back to NWA, she says, “I don’t want to go back because of harsh memories associated with it; my parents died there, I cannot go back to the place that snatched my family’s happiness.”
Hayat’s family is too scared to go back; they feel they won’t be safe there. According to Naila, they have a comfortable life in Peshawar. Their uncle looks after them and the government also provides financial assistance.
Although life has been harsh, the sisters take it in their stride. They say they are determined to pursue higher education and strive to bring about a positive change in society.
Saira says she wants to follow in her father’s footsteps and become a journalist to fulfil his mission—to raise your voice for the truth. “Education is of utmost important, especially for women, to empower them both socially and financially.”