The murder of Sushmita Banerjee, the Indian author of Kabuliwala’s Bengali Wife, is yet another indication that the rule of Taliban is back in Afghanistan, especially in the context of the proposed withdrawal of the NATO forces by 2014. While the story of Malala Yousufzai’s miraculous survival had inspired many, the tale of Banerjee’s grisly end would certainly drive a nail to the coffin of Afghanistan’s rotting civil liberties, particularly those of its women. While Malala had braved the Taliban and had even suffered being shot at, in the head at that, only to emerge as the icon of global women’s education, Banerjee’s death has become symbolic of what the curse of Taliban could be. The two women, with their contrasting stories, exemplify the regime of regressive policies that is back in the spotlight, with the Taliban drumming up the rule of the gun once again. The heinous crime of murdering Banerjee, at whom over 20 bullets were fired from point-blank range, is a reminder that much needs to be done in the beleaguered country, even after years of American intervention and deployment of its forces in the region. Banerjee’s killing is not just a blow to India’s self-esteem and its infrastructural interests in the wider Af-Pak region, but also to democracy and women’s rights the world over.
While Banerjee had gone to live in Afghanistan after she met and married her husband, an Afghan doctor, in Kolkata, and even though she had attempted to flee the country, the second time successfully, her decision to return to the riotous place had bewildered many. In fact, Banerjee had directly taken on the Taliban by refusing to cover her face with a burqa and also espousing the cause of education, as well as having a public presence, since she ran a dispensary and was a professional midwife. Her contributions as a health worker had a profound impact, in terms of cultural and symbolic value as well as to alleviate the medical problems of the women in the region, thereby incriminating her even more in the eyes of the Taliban. Documenting as she had been the lives of women in the blighted country, severely circumscribed and under the Taliban’s thumb, as also under severe threat from the feudal warlords who call the shots there, Banerjee had been at the forefront of a systematic subversion of the Taliban regime. Her life story and the book had even inspired a film called Escape from Taliban, which she had however distanced herself from since it portrayed her husband and family in a poor light. Clearly, Banerjee’s had been a brave and commendable choice, which is possibly not replicable under ordinary circumstances, and even in her death, she comes across as a dauntless woman of great depth and empathy for the other. Her take on the Kabuliwala, therefore, both endeared and familiarised the Afghan man, who’s a stark contrast to the regressive and brutal Taliban that put the bullets into her body.