Indian author and women’s rights activist killed in Afghanistan

by Lisa Anderson | | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 6 September 2013 05:08 GMT

An Afghan woman walks with her child in Kabul, on Oct. 18, 2012. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail

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Extremists may have targeted Sushmita Banerjee for her bestselling memoir and film about her escape from the Taliban

NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Sushmita Banerjee, a prominent women’s rights activist and Indian author of a memoir about her escape from the Taliban, was killed by Afghan militants late Wednesday, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.

Banerjee, a convert to Islam and the wife of an Afghan businessman, was abducted from her home in southeastern Afghanistan’s Paktika province by the Taliban, who shot her to death, according to Mukhlis Afghan, spokesman for the provincial governor.

Her body reportedly was dumped near a religious school in Sharana, the provincial capital.

At the time of her death, Banerjee, 49, was working as a midwife at a hospital in Paktika. She had moved to Afghanistan in 1989 after marrying her husband, whom she met in Calcutta, according to a BBC report.

In her native India, Banerjee was something of a celebrity after her bestselling memoir, “A Kabuliwala’s Bengali Wife”, was made into a Bollywood movie in 2003.

The movie, “Escape from Taliban”, told the harrowing story of Banerjee’s life in Afghanistan after the Taliban took power. The Taliban branded her a “woman of poor morals” in 1993 and forced her to close the small pharmacy she operated from her house.

Fleeing to Pakistan in 1994, she was tracked down by her brothers-in-law, who dragged her back to Afghanistan.

“They kept me under house arrest and branded me an immoral woman,” she wrote. “The Taliban threatened to teach me a lesson. I knew I had to escape.”

Banerjee dug her way through the mud walls of the house where she was held and escaped, only to be intercepted by a group of Taliban who threatened to kill her for leaving her husband, she wrote.  Somehow, she persuaded them that she had the right to return to her home country of India, and they took her to the Indian embassy.

She went back to India and eventually was reunited there with her husband Jaanbaz Khan. Reportedly, she had only recently returned to Afghanistan, where she was known as Sayed Kamala, thinking she would be safe from the Taliban.

According to some reports, however, she may have been targeted by religious extremists who either considered her book insulting to the Taliban or may have been angry that she was videotaping the lives of local women as part of her healthcare work.

According to the BBC, the Taliban deny involvement in Banerjee’s murder.

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