Who was ‘Kabuliwala's Bengali Wife', the Woman Who Dared to Challenge the Taliban

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The Taliban’s gruesome and atrocity-filled outlook towards women has always been known ever since the militant group captured Afghanistan back in the late 1990s when they held nearly three quarters of the country. They banned women from going to school or working except for in the hospitals as they banned male doctors from treating women. Women were also not allowed to go out without a male member of the family and wear a burqa among other rules. And those who defied them, were subjected to public physical assault or even executed.

Amid all this, the real-life story of an Indian woman from West Bengal who was an activist and writer. Sushmita Banerjee or Sayeda Kamala was a writer-activist who had married an Afghan businessman named Janbaz Khan. Banerjee later documented her story in the book ‘Kabuliwalar Bangali Bou’ (Kabuliwala’s Bengali Wife) where she detailed out her life in Afghanistan and the atrocities faced under the Taliban rule in the 1990s.

Banerjee was born in a Bengali Hindu household in Kolkata, formerly Calcutta and met her future husband Janbaz in the city. She secretly married him anticipating objection from her parents. She later ran away to Afghanistan with her husband when she heard her parents were reportedly trying to get the couple divorced. But on reaching Afghanistan, Banerjee found he was already married to a woman, whom the former described as her brother-in-law’s wife in her book. Although shocked at the turn of events, she started living with her in-laws at their ancestral home in Afghanistan’s Patiya village. Although her husband came back to India for business, Banerjee could not.

She later attempted to flee Afghanistan but couldn’t. A fatwa was issued against her and she was also scheduled to be killed on July 22 in 1995 but was helped by the village headman to escape. She managed to take a flight back to Kolkata later from Kabul a month later.

Banerjee lived in India till 2013 and even published books but then went back to Afghanistan. She worked as a healthcare worker and also started documenting the everyday lives of local Afghani women. During her first time in Afghanistan, Banerjee had witnessed the horrors of the Talibani ways and had taken on the role of a mentor and leader to help empower Afghani women. She had in many ways renewed her mission to work for the women in her second stint in the country as well. This had led to the Taliban targeting her.

But by a cruel turn of events, Taliban terrorists on the night of September 4 in 2013 forced their way into Banerjee’s house, tied up her husband and took her away. Her body was found the next day, with 20 bullet hole marks in her.

Banerjee’s chilling real life story was brought to life on cinema by director Ujjal Chattopadhyaya in the movie ‘Escape from Taliban’ and it starred Manisha Koirala as Sushmita Banerjee.

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