The killing of Sushmita Banerjee an Indian citizen married to an Afghanistani man raises several questions! Late Ms. Banerjee was the author of a book “A Kabuliwala’s Bengali Wife” published in 1997 which later was filmed into “Escape from Afghanistan” as a Hindi Movie released in 2003. It showcases her marriage as a Hindu Bengali woman to an already married Muslim man and her ensuing life challenges and difficulties under oppression, threat, and violence of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. This killing has been one in a long series of incidents attacking women with public profiles including two Muslim women senators in Kabul earlier this year. Talibanistic approach to women is apparent in the forced Burqua, making public services including health care inaccessible to women unless accompanied by a mahram/ or a male relative, public stoning of women accused of “sins” like having an affair, and removing of women’s names or even the word woman on any public property.
The important query here is. What is the motivation of Taliban Militants in killing and attacking their own women? One obvious reason is that women in public spaces are constructed as anti-Islamist and pro- liberalism or a US mandate. The control of public space and visible culture is likely also a political statement on the return of Taliban to the mainstream from the fringes; where it has been located since the US intervention in 2001.
The gender relationships and women’s rights are obviously skewed in the public domain in Afghanistan; what about the private spaces? Our focus at a policy level needs to be on women’s relationships within the household. Are household duties, violence, and expectations from women within the household fair? What are the perceptions of spouses and fathers and sons on the rights of their mothers, daughters, and sisters? Obviously, successful changes in policy are contingent upon their garnering public support. According to RAWA, The Revolutionary Association of Women in Afghanistan, established in 1977 by Meena, whose founder was gunned down in Quetta in Pakistan in 1987 says “Freedom and democracy cannot be donated”. This is a good case in point given that the Karzai government had approved the Elimination of Violence Against Women Law in 2009. Even the enormous amounts of aid and programming have not changed mindsets.
Democracies like India with strict laws are still struggling to ensure safety of women in public and private spaces because of the stereotypical mindset across populations of both men and women. The programming and aid needs a different focus and needs to think of women not just as beneficiaries but also as decision makers in countries like Afghanistan.
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