On Wednesday night, the Afghan Taliban killed 49-year-old Indian author Sushmita Banerjee outside her home in Paktika province.
Banerjee was known for a popular memoir that chronicled her turbulent life as the wife of an Afghan in Kabul under the Taliban regime. According to the police, Taliban militants tied up her family members and took Banerjee out and shot her. The Taliban have denied responsibility.
Banerjee, a Bengali woman with independent views, defied her family to marry Afghan businessman Jaanbaz Khan in Kolkata in 1989 and go to live with him in Kabul, where she began to work with local women, educating them in social and health issues. “I am not a qualified doctor. But I knew a little about common ailments and since there was no medical help in the vicinity, I thought I could support myself and keep myself busy by dispensing medicines,” she wrote.
Banerjee’s problems with the Taliban began in 1998, when the extremist group objected to her work. “They [the Taliban] ordered me to close down the dispensary and branded me a woman of poor morals.”
In 1994, she decided to escape, but was tracked down by her in-laws and put under house arrest. She later dug a secret tunnel through the mud walls of her home and fled again but was arrested by the Taliban near Kabul. She talked them out of executing her and instead convinced them to send her back to India.
Her story was recounted in the 1995 best-seller Kabuliwalar Bengali Bou (A Kabuliwala’s Bengali Wife), which was adapted into a popular Bollywood movie in 2003. She also wrote about her experiences for Outlook India magazine.
In January this year, Banerjee, also known as Sayed Kamala, went back to Kabul to write a second book and live with her husband, where she began a film project with local women. Her murder raises yet more questions about the safety and future of women in the country once allied forces complete their withdrawal in 2014.