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September 06, 2013

India Shocked Over Killing of Author by Suspected Taliban Militants

by Anjana Pasricha

India says the killing of an Indian author living in Afghanistan by suspected Taliban militants reinforces the need to work with the strife-torn nation to consolidate democracy and inclusion. The 49-year-old woman from Kolkata had escaped from the Taliban 15 years ago, and wrote a popular book on it, but returned recently to live in her husband’s country.  

As news that the bullet riddled body of Sushmita Banerjee had been found near her home in Paktika province in Afghanistan hit India, the publisher of her well known book Kabuliwala’s Bengali Wife, expressed deep shock.

Swapan Biswas recalled his last meeting with the author in February when she had returned to Kolkata during one of her frequent visits to her hometown.

He said she told him she was working on another compelling book on life in Afghanistan based on what she was happening in the country.  
  
But Banerjee was never to write that book. 

Paktika’s police chief said she was abducted by masked men and her body dumped at a madrassah early Thursday.  A Taliban spokesman has denied responsibility for her death.

But many in India believe that the author was targeted by Taliban militants who had sentenced her to death 18 years ago for refusing to wear a burqa in public.  That happened during her seven-year stint in Afghanistan during the 1990s in the home of her husband, who was an Afghan businessman.
 
At that time, she fled back to Kolkata and wrote a book on her traumatic experience. It was later turned into a Bollywood film, Escape from Taliban. Her escape to India was not easy - she only made her way back to her hometown after two failed attempts.

Banerjee then spent many years in Kolkata. But she returned in January this year to live in her husband’s hometown with her in-laws.  She was well known in the area as a woman who had converted to Islam, and worked as a midwife in an area with poor health facilities.

In New Delhi, Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid said her killing was a tragedy and that India stands by Afghanistan.     

“We have one single point of view, a determination and our commitment to fight this kind of inhuman treatment, particularly of women and we stand solidly with Afghanistan to oppose this, confront it, and eliminate this kind of view," said Khurshid. "We do believe that the loss is for Afghanistan and India combined, it is not just our loss, it is theirs as well.”       

In an article for Outlook magazine published in 1998, Banerjee had chronicled life in Afghanistan after the Taliban crackdown in 1993. She described how the Taliban was aghast that she ran a small pharmacy and dubbed her a woman of poor morals. She said listening to the radio or tape recorder was banned and women could not step out of their homes unless accompanied by their husbands.

Publisher Biswas said he had asked Banerjee why she was returning to Afghanistan when it was going through a troubled phase. 

He said she told him she was going back to be in her husband’s home and also with her adopted daughter who lived there.

 Banerjee, 49, did not get much time to do either.