If you ask me who my hero is, I won't be stating a single name with a big smile on my face, rather, I'll give you hundreds of names, carrying an untold sadness on my face, and pride in my heart. No, my hero is not just 1 person, but 151.
It was the day of 16th December 2014. The morning's winter breeze compelled the pedestrians, who had their necks covered with woolen scarfs, to tuck their cold hands in their pockets. Children in school uniforms, wearing green blazers and green coats, ran towards their school's main gate. The school was "Army Public School". Everything was fine, but who knew, "unusual" was waiting for them.
At around 10:30 A.M, seven gunmen, disguised in uniforms of the Pakistani paramilitary force, stormed into the school after having scaled the back wall of the school. There was silence in the school before the kids, sitting in their classrooms, heard the gunshots followed by deadly screams.The gunmen had entered straight into the auditorium where students had gathered for first-aid training, and opened fires on them. Many pupils, who started running towards the exit door on the other side of auditorium, were gunned down. The gunmen sprayed the fires on the kids, age ranging from 8 to 18.
They went from classes to classes, opening fires on young teens, letting them witness their mates dying in front of them. The pals, without whom they couldn't live, with whom they promised to see the world cup match, were snatched away in seconds of time. For me, for them, they are not dead, they just died to live forever! They are my heroes!
I can't describe that day in words. I need much, much, much more than words to describe the sadness, the trauma, the fear, and the tragedy! There were more than 150 casualties in total. There were 150 dreams, killed and slaughtered. The gunmen continued to kill students, teachers, and staff. The school looked like h*** dripping with blood.
One of the survivor, 13-year-old student, a hero, re-called his memory of seeing his friends being killed right in front of him. He was also shot in his arm, twice, but managed to remain silent, holding in screams and deathly pain. He made the terrorists believe he was dead. Sometimes, "death" is the only way to receive mercy. School's principal 'Tahira Kazi', who was rescued, ran back inside the school saying her kids were still inside. She couldn't accept being rescued after seeing the students being killed. She was shot dead then. She is my hero. A hero who valued her students more than her family, and couldn't help dying for it.
A student, lying under the desk, saw death from very near. He watched as the man wearing black boots came towards him, looking for pupils beneath the benches. This 16-year-old hero was shot in both of his legs, but had folded his tie and pushed it in his mouth so that he couldn't make a sound.
Afshan Ahmed, a 24-year-old teacher, saved numerous lives by intercepting the terrorists, shielding her students. As stated by her one of the students, her last words to the terrorists were, "You must kill me first, because I will not see my students’ bodies lying in front of me". She was then set on fire, but even while being burnt, she yelled and told her students to run. She is not dead to me, she is my hero. The student further said that he felt selfish for not saving her and for running away.
15 year old Dawood Ibrahim's alarm clock didn't ring in the morning, saving him from the horrors of the day. He was the only one who is alive unlike "all of his classmates". What he felt while attending his classmates' funerals is buried in his heart forever.
"Smallest coffins are the heaviest". Mothers cried with pain, screaming hysterically, involuntarily bashing their heads against their hands in disbelief. Fathers were left devastated. Sisters had lost their bodyguards. Brothers had lost their playmates. Dreams were killed even before they grew wings.
Sometimes in life, some people leave us with a message, a message that we can never forget, that sticks to our heart just like a scar we can never get rid of. Mubeen Shah, a 15 year old victim, left us with a message, written on his Facebook profile's cover photo. It says, "We are the nation of great beauty and great grief. Our smile is much STRONGER than your gun". Thousands of People visited his profile to see his cover photo, a photo with strong message.
With his profile picture of him standing by the tree, smiling, and the cover with the message " Our smile is much STRONGER than gun", anyone can have their eyes flooded with tears while staring at the computer screen. 'He' is my hero.
One of the victims of Army Public school, a 6th grader, had a passionate dream of joining Pakistan Army. He would upload photos of soldiers in army uniform, and couldn't wait to become one. He was martyred after saving many lives. Even though he couldn't live to become a soldier, he died like one. He could've tried to save himself, but instead, he tried saving others. He is my hero too.
Muhammed Aslam, father of 8th grader Mubeen, got a horrific call, alarming him what had happened at school. He tried to stay positive, and rushed to the Lady Reading Hospital to find him, but he was no where to be seen. This father, who had seen his wife die 9 months ago, only had his 14-year-old son as a family. He later found his body at Combined Military Hospital, his son was shot in the head. Khan said, “I used to tell him that army men have to sacrifice their lives for their motherland,” he said. “He would always say that he would do the same as he also wanted to be a shaheed (Martyr) ".
If it had been a novel or a movie, it would have won an Oscar by now, followed by a loud applause, camera clicks, and flashlight. In reality, those heroes are not paid actor, they are not paid to play dead.
I still remember the time we reached our Cram School on 16th Dec 2014, it was horrible, terrible, devastating. Students were sitting in the ground, covering their faces in their hands, teachers were sitting on stage, crying for mercy. I still remember how my principal cried, how he lost control of his emotions, how he urged us to say sorry to our parents, to ask forgiveness for every mistakes we made, for our ill-manner, because death doesn't know age, and because some people don't know "young". We were told to say sorry to our parents because we did't know if we ever get a chance to say so. I still remember how parents ran to hug their sons and daughters after they reached home from their school. It could be them, it could be us, it could be anyone.
All seven gunmen were not Pakistanis, they were those who killed the ones they never met, they lived far far away. The kids, never in their lives, had ever thought that they would be killed by someone whom they never saw, they never knew someone would even think of killing them. You know what the sad part it? The international media, the people living in other parts of the world, thought they were killed just for going to school. No they were not!
In fact, they were murdered because they were the sons of soldiers, Army Officers, and because their fathers had been fighting a war that were not theirs in the first place. Isn't it sad that we were made to believe that someone else's enemy was our enemy, and were pushed in the war, and then we were left to clean up the mess? Yes, we are now left to clean up the mess, and to face these kinds of incidents as an act of 'revenge' of cleaning up the mess. So, where are those now whose enemy we'd been fighting?
Perhaps somewhere, thinking these kids were shot just for going to school. You know what the worst part is? To been seen as a terrorist, after fighting their wars, after cleaning their mess, and after facing the revenge. 'H*** on each side'. Someone please ask how much it hurts.
There were thousand stories. All those stories had heroes, heroes who had to meet with their sad endings, who either had to die in the end or watch their friends die. I'm proud of these heroes, my 151 heroes. I am proud of all the other heroes who went back to that school on 12th of January, 2015. I'm proud of the boy, who was shot 6 times, also in his face, but still went back to the same school after his recovery. No, he didn't run away, he was resilient! The students of APS are the symbol of 'Resilience', and this is what their school's "motto" is all about.
Indeed, they lived, live and will forever live by their school's motto,
"I shall rise and shine".