When I was in 7th grade I had read an article about an Afghan girl who was married away to a man 40 years elder to her. She was ‘given’ to him as ‘baad’ — a custom where a girl is presented as compensation by the perpetrator’s family to victim’s family. This custom is widely practiced even today in many provinces of Afghanistan. The reason behind this practice is to maintain peace between the troubled families. But in reality girls are often abused and they flee their husband’s house. Finally they will be brought back where the end result will be either death or continuance of persecution.
This was enough to set my heart on Afghanistan. I decided that one day I will go ‘talk’ to the Afghan women in their own land. I had no idea about their culture or political situation, all I knew was it is wrong to exploit a girl for no mistake of hers’. And I also knew that it will be wrong if I do not act upon it. Now standing on the Afghan sand, I see nothing but the same weary faces which I saw 8 years ago in the newspaper. IÂ didn’tÂ know that the inquisitive picture which led me to the newspaper will also lead me to Afghanistan!
Foreigners who come to Kabul for the first time will definitely be intimidated by the kind of reception they get. If you are a woman and you are alone, then you will see many eyes (in the streets and even in the Airport) starring at you as if you are some temptress! Initially I was petrified. All I wanted is to get a cab and rush to my guest house. That’s what I did. Got a cab and entered Kabul: The land of brave.
When you enter the city, you will notice that majority of men are dressed in their traditional attire by name ‘kurta ezar’ and some women wearing burqa of blue and black colours and the rest covering only their face which is called ‘Poos bandh’ or ‘scarf’. No wonder Kabul can strike you with its exquisiteness. The hills, sky, birds all makes it beautiful, but what makes it more attractive is the armed men, land rovers, little girls with white scarves, the patrolling helicopters and the popularity of Bollywood movies! Must also state that the weather here is temperate but it can get colder during night. Well I forgot to mention, there was one hoarding in the Airport which took my attention. It said, “Welcome to Kabul — The Land of Brave”, which I believe to be the true way of defining the
country. Finally, there I was in Afghanistan hoping to see what I always heard and longing for a brilliant experience.
Customs sicken me
Afghanistan is a place where religion has a strong grip on people’s life. Every Governmental document starts and ends with the name of Allah. People talk about God very fervently. I don’t like to exaggerate but for an agnostic person like me, it was very hard to accept. The very thought of relating God to every action and reaction was just not going down my throat. At this point I understood that why this country is called the ‘Islamic’ Republic of Afghanistan and not a secular State like India or USA.
The customs and traditions here are followed to such an extent that they even undermine the laws. Again these customs are largely responsible for the deteriorated status of Afghan women. It might take another 2 centuries to change the attitude of people and even Government here towards the concepts of rule of law, equal status to women, liberty and the freedom of choice and expression. The story of women in Afghanistan is very disheartening and it is not an easy task to revive this society. There is a grave violation of women’s rights in Afghanistan and the Governmental efforts towards mitigating the problem is not appreciable. Everyday hundreds of women and girls are being sexually harassed and mentally injured. The signs of revival look too bleak.
People who don’t have knowledge about Quran usually have a belief that it’s the religion (Islam) which is responsible for the abuse meted to fairer sex. On this point the Afghanis claim that it’s the customs which does all the damage, especially those particularly followed in Afghanistan. Same applies for few practices in Hinduism too. For example: According to our ancient scriptures, in-order to attain moksha (salvation) one should beget a male child. But it never says a girl child should be victimised for this purpose. Unfortunately, killing of female foetuses is increasing everyday and the reason for this practice is definitely not religion. For many in India, having a male child is a matter of pride. I have witnessed instances where the birth of a baby boy is celebrated as a festival and on the other hand the baby girl’s as a bad omen. It is the Hindu custom which places men in a higher position and religion has nothing to do with it. So instead of inciting blasphemy, I believe one should look at the real side of the problems connected to religion which will mostly be customs.
After talking to a number of women here, I realised that they don’t really know what freedom is or what rights are? It was quite astonishing that many didn’t even want to explore it! When I was interviewing a woman Member of Parliament, she said “The main problem in Afghanistan is that women don’t know their rights. In fact they are unaware that they too have something called the ‘basic human rights”. She continued, “When I was campaigning for the election a lady asked me how can she vote a woman? Woman is on the earth and man in the sky. Such is the difference between man and woman. She said she cannot vote to me, because I’m a woman and I’m not supposed to stand against a man!”
She also narrated an incidence where a lady of her province came to her with bruises and cuts. When the MP enquired, the lady plainly said that her husband did that to her. Then the MP asked if she wanted any help to prosecute her husband. The lady answered, “Ustad my husband has all the rights to punish me. He is superior to me and he is my master. How can I even complaint? No I will never go against him. The reason I’ve come here is to help him get a job!”
I could not help but to laugh at the condition of that lady and her blind obedience to the abusive husband. For a moment I forgot that I am living in Afghanistan and slipped back to an incidence which always keeps me reckoning. As a part of our project “Fight for your Rights” in Mysore, we met a lady who was pregnant at that time and had come to us asking help to prosecute her cruel husband. She lived in an urban slum in a very pitiable condition. The husband was a drunkard and used to harass her physically and also mentally. Poor lady went to the police station to lodge a complaint but got no help. Fortunately she met us and we took her to the appropriate place and got her the relief. Why I am bringing forth this incident here, is because, many women in Afghanistan don’t even know that getting abused is a criminal act. They believe their religion (or may be customs?) give men the power to punish women. They don’t know that they too have some inherent human rights like men. It can be said that women in India know their rights (to a greater level when compared with Afghan women) yet there are many living without any knowledge of it. What is common in both the situations is: Violation of rights, vulnerability and inability to access the help.