In a culture of the oppression and abuse of women, Sushmita Banerjee stood out. An Indian married to an Afghan businessman, Banerjee wrote of the rule of the Taliban and her effort to flee the medieval Islamic rules placed on women. Her book “A Kabuliwala’s Bengali Wife” was an inspiration for women facing religious oppression and was later made into the movie “Escape From The Taliban.” The title proved tragically optimistic. This week, after she returned to her husband in Afghanistan, Banerjee was executed at her home by the Taliban.
Banerjee went to Afghanistan in 1989 after meeting Jaanbaz Khan in Calcutta and marrying him. In 1993, the Taliban came into power and moved to close a dispensary she was running from her house. She was declared “a woman of poor morals.” In 1994, she fled but her Afghan brothers-in-law tracked her down in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, and took her back to Afghanistan. She was kept under house arrest by the Taliban. She was able to briefly escape through a tunnel that she dug in the house. However, outside of Kabul, she was arrested and interrogated by the Taliban. They threatened to kill her for fleeing her husband, but due to her Indian citizenship, she was taken to the Indian embassy. Her husband joined her in India. Her book became a best seller in India.
Recently, Banerjee returned to Afghanistan to work as a health worker and was filming the lives of local women. The Taliban came to her house, tied up her husband and his family, and took her outside and shot her. Her body was dumped near a religious school. She was 49.
The Taliban correctly saw Banerjee as a threat because she defied them and their sexist, repressive beliefs. She was a towering symbol of courage not only for women but for all of us. She will be missed but left a wonderful testament to the struggle for freedom that will continue to inspire women around the world.