KOLKATA/KABUL (TIP): Indian author Sushmita Banerjee was executed by the Taliban late on September 4. While the reason for the barbaric act was not given, Banerjee had possibly attracted the ire of the fundamentalist outfit for her ceaseless social work, especially for women’s healthcare and upliftment. Forty-nine-year-old Banerjee, according to reports, was dragged out of her house in Kharana in Paktita province before being shot dead by the turbaned militants. The execution signals the portent of things to come before the impending withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan where deadly attacks and other forms of atrocities against women have spiralled in the past few months. Banerjee, who had converted to Islam and rechristened herself asSayeda Kamala, retained her Indian citizenship. Earlier too she had attracted the anger of the regressive Taliban. Her memoir about her dramatic escape from the clutches of the fundamentalist outfit inspired a movie in 2003, Escape from Taliban, starring Monisha Koirala.
Last month, a female Afghan MP was abducted by suspected Taliban militants while she was travelling with her children. Another woman MP recently sought asylum in Britain after being abandoned by her relatives for seeking divorce from an abusive husband. In July, gunmen assassinated a high profile female police officer. These instances have occurred in the backdrop of orthodox Muslim groups renewing their call against women stepping out of their homes to work or seek independent careers. Indian officials in Kabul confirmed that Banerjee was shot around 11pm Wednesday and that her last rites were performed by her family Thursday morning. She had just returned to Afghanistan after celebrating Eid in West Bengal. Married to an Afghan businessman, Jaanbaz Khan, Banerjee had recently moved back to Afghanistan after spending a few years in India, especially Kolkata and Mumbai.
Her best-selling book, Kababuliwalar Bangali Bou (A Kabuliwala’s Bengali Wife), was written in 1995 after she escaped from the clutches of the Taliban in the wake of the fall of Afghanistan to the marauding hordes. Although a report claimed the Taliban denied any involvement in the killing, Afghan police said militants belonging to the extreme Islamist outfit descended on her Kharana house, tied up her husband and other family members before dragging Sushmita out and pumping several bullets into her from close range. After the cold-blooded execution, the Talibs dumped her body near an Islamic seminary, the police added. Since returning to Afghanistan, Banerjee worked as a health worker in Paktita, recording on celluloid the lives of local women as part of her work. After her July 1988 marriage to Khan, who she had earlier met in Kolkata, Banerjee moved to Afghanistan when her parents tried to get her divorced. All of 27 at that time, Banerjee was shocked to learn that Khan was already married to another woman.
She took pity on Khan’s first wife, Gulguti, and even reared her children besides adopting Tinni, daughter of her brother-in-law. “Her publisher Swapan Biswas said Banerjee had informed him about the plan to return to Afghanistan in February to start work on another book. “She was determined to go back for the book which she wanted me to publish,” Biswas said. Besides the first book, Banerjee has recounted her remarkable escape story in an article for an Indian news magazine in 1998. She wrote that “life was tolerable until the Taliban crackdown in 1993” when militants ordered her to shut down the dispensary she ran from her house and “branded” her as a woman of “poor morals.” In Banerjee’s words, she made an abortive bid to escape first in early 1994, but her brothers-in-law tracked her down to the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, where she had reached to seek assistance from the Indian embassy.
They took her back to Afghanistan only to be confined by the Taliban in house arrest. The Taliban promised to send her back to India, which never happened. Instead, they heaped insults on her and threatened her daily. That is when she made up her mind to escape. The daring move bore fruit in 1995 when she was able to hoodwink her captors, fleeing her husband’s house which is three hours from Kabul. Banerjee’s execution does not bode well for Afghanistan’s women, especially when their empowerment under the Hamid Karzai regime was held up as one of the greatest successes of the Nato coalition forces. Human rights groups operating in Afghanistan and abroad say that a string of laws passed by the parliament will expose women to extreme forms of abuse. The Islamists have been demanding shutting down of women’s shelters which they describe as “dens of immorality”.