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NEW DELHI: Even as Afghan police officials have blamed the Taliban for the execution of Indian author Sushmita Bannerjee on Wednesday, the jihadist organizaton has denied its hand in the killing.
Rejecting the blame that it killed the Indian woman author, the Taliban said no mujahideen was involved in the execution. “It is a propaganda by government official to defame the mujahideen,” AFP quoted the Taliban as saying.
Earlier reports had said that Sushmita Bannerjee, the Indian author whose book “Kabuliwalar Bangali Bou” (A Kabuliwala’s Bengali Wife) was turned into a successful Bollywood film in 2003, was executed by the Taliban on Wednesday.
Sushmita, 49, who had converted to Islam and taken on the new name of Sayed Kamala after her marriage to an Afghan businessman Jaanbaz Khan and was working as a health worker in Paktika province of Afghanistan bordering Pakistan, was reportedly dragged out out of her house and shot dead.
Her body was later found dumped near a madrasa. Sushmita had not given up her Indian citizenship.
Sushmita had married the Afghan businessman in Kolkata in 1989 and moved to Afghanistan. But when the Taliban took over Afghanistan, Sushamita, who was running care centre, was ordered to close it.
Her book “Kabuliwalar Bangali Bou” (A Kabuliwala’s Bengali Wife) narrated her escape from the Taliban in 1995 when they overran Afghanistan. The book, which went on to become a best-seller in India, was later turned into a film titled Escape From Taliban in 2003. Manisha Koirala had played the role of Sushmita Bannerjee in the film which was directed by Ujjwal Chatterjee.
Sushmita had reportedly just returned to Afghanistan after celebrating Eid in Kolkata.
Below is an article by Sushmita that she wrote for India’s Outlook magazine about her escape from the Taliban. She wrote:
SARANA (in Afghanistan) was a picturesque village when I went there in 1989. But, for an Indian,the Muslim laws pertaining to women were hard to follow. Being a woman meant that one had to live an isolated life—never stepping out of the house or talking face to face to any man other than your husband.
My husband, Janbaz, who ran a business in Calcutta, had to make an urgent trip back to India. I stayed back. Unfortunately, Janbaz failed to come back to Afghanistan. Though my in-laws were not too kind, life was tolerable until the Taliban crackdown in 1993.
I remember it was early that year that members of the Taliban came to our house. They had heard of the dispensary I was running from my house. I am not a qualified doctor. But I knew a little about common ailments and since there was no medical help in the vicinity, I thought I could support myself and keep myself busy by dispensing medicines. The members of the Taliban who called on us were aghast that I, a woman, could be running a business establishment. They ordered me to close down the dispensary and branded me a woman of poor morals.
They also listed out dos and don’ts. The burkha was a necessity. Listening to the radio or playing a tape recorder was banned. Women were not allowed to go to shops. They were even prohibited from stepping out from their houses unless accompanied by their husbands. All women had to have the names of their husbands tattooed on their left hand. Virtually all interaction between men and women outside the confines of their own homes was banned.
Here I must mention the case of a woman who called in a priest to pray for her son who was seriously ill. Members of the Taliban saw the maulvi going into the house. The woman and the priest were executed in public. They were taken to the square alongside the local police station and shot. The entire village was terrorised by the incident.
Members of the Taliban would often call on the village folk and demand food. They came to my house on at least 50 occasions. I have cooked for them. They would come in groups of 50 persons. Sometimes, the house would be searched for weapons. We had two AK-47s. In fact, every house had its own weapons. This shows the terror all around.
Sometime in early 1994 I decided to escape. I can’t recall the exact date because you don’t have calendars in rural Afghanistan. One keeps track of the months by watching the phases of the moon. I sought the help of a neighbour who pretended he was my husband and for a consideration offered to take me across the border to Pakistan. But in Islamabad, the Indian High Commission could not help me since I had no passport or visa.
Meanwhile, my brothers-in-law tracked me down and took me back to Afghanistan. They promised to send me back to India. But they did not keep their promise. Instead, they kept me under house arrest and branded me an immoral woman. The Taliban threatened to teach me a lesson. I knew I had to escape.
One night I tunneled my way through the mud walls of the house and fled. Close to Kabul I was arrested. A 15-member group of the Taliban interrogated me. Many of them said that since I had fled my husband’s home I should be executed. However, I was able to convince them that since I was an Indian I had every right to go back to my country.
The interrogation continued through the night. The next morning I was taken to the Indian embassy from where I was given a safe passage. Back in Calcutta I was reunited with my husband. I don’t think he will ever be able to go back to his family.
Ever since my return I wanted to write about my experiences. I am happy that my book on a Bengali bahu in Kabul has been published. There are many other Indian women trapped in Afghanistan. I hope someone does something to help them.