Truth can indeed be stranger than fiction, and the story of Sushmita Banerjee’s unfortunate and violent end might have more than what meets the eye. If the claims made by Banerjee’s family in Kolkata have an iota of truth in them, then the slain author’s husband, Janbaaz Khan, might have had a hand in the grisly death that the writer of Kabuliwala’s Bengali Wife met with. Allegations have been made by Sushmita Banerjee’s family and a close friend of hers that the murdered author was having a turbulent time at home, in Paktika province of Afghanistan, and that she was about to annul the marriage with Khan, who already had a second wife, and was planning to have a third. Moreover, Banerjee’s friend’s chats with the slain author on a social media website clearly demonstrate that she was having a rough time and was thinking about remarrying, this time a Delhi-based businessman, once she returned to her original homeland. Banerjee, who hailed from a Hindu Brahmin family, married Janbaaz Khan in 1988 in a shroud of secrecy, went to live with him in Afghanistan, and converted to Islam to take on a new name, Sayeda Kamala. In fact, she had been repeatedly targeted by the Taliban for her splendidly bold decisions to not cover her face, to continue to work for the local health sector by running a small dispensary as well as espousing the cause f education in her adopted homeland. Hence, if the new disclosures are anything to go by, not only do they completely change the picture of how the killing happened, they also give the gory tale a unimaginable twist, that involving domestic violence, making Banerjee’s case an unbelievable case of honour killing carried out not the Taliban, but the so-called educated and liberal Afghan family itself.
For all the scathing criticisms poured in by the global media, both Western and that in India as well, this new turn of events can indeed pull the plug on the levels of biases that exist in the perceptions of what constitutes the Afghani society, its cultural fabric, particularly in the remote corners of the Taliban-infested provinces. Although not all stereotypes are baseless, as evident in the brilliant tale of survival and overcoming the odds demonstrated by the 14-year-old Malala Yousufzai in Pakistan, who was a victim of the Pakistani Taliban, the new clues shed light on the entrenched prejudices against the Afghan men, the complicated range of difficulties faced by the women, and the skewed gender equation in the country, where even the liberal spaces are inundated by assumptions and feudal diktats that have not been washed away by the waters of urbane upbringing or global exposure to other cultures. The murky details of Banerjee’s travails and escape from the brutalities of the Taliban at first had grabbed world headlines since they reinforced the long-held beliefs of the West about the Oriental despot in the average Afghan male, not just the Taliban. However, Banerjee’s death, takes the perception to another level, wherein even the education Afghan man, a globe-trotting medical professional at that, could stoop to level and orchestrate a murder so as to dress it up as an execution at the hands of the Taliban. Ironically enough, if the allegations are proved to be true, Banerjee’s husband would demonstrate a classic case of exploiting the stereotype in order to settle personal scores and benefit from the automatic assumption that it was merely the Taliban brutes who wanted her dead. Evidently, brutality can hide behind polished education, which is astute enough to exploit the very stereotype that liberal schooling was supposed to demolish in the first place.