It was 2012, and there was news about a woman who had been shot to death for adultery in Afghanistan, her name was Najiba. This would have hit the headlines if it was the West, but it was Afghanistan where death and destruction are routine. The reason the story hit the headlines is that the western media picked it up and soon it was all over the wires and became a talking point in almost every home.
The surprising facet of this story was that Najiba was in her early 20s, was married and her husband had accused her of adultery. But how and where the supposed adultery took place is unknown except for the fact that she stood accused of adultery without the partner in crime being produced. The trial which lasted for one hour was conducted by the Taliban who were the judge, jury and executioner rolled into one. Najiba stood convicted and was sentenced to death. She was forced to cover her head and kneel and was repeatedly shot in the back with an assault rifle until she rolled over and died.
Villages dot Afghanistan, and each village is usually accessible by a dirt road. Some villages are so remote that donkeys and bikes are the only means of transport to get in and out. Public transports within small towns are villages are non-existent. Inter-city transport exists, but they are privately owned and operated. Afghanistan is a country only in name; power is understood when it is enforced at the point of a gun.
For all practical purposes, Afghanistan is a theocratic state. Any provision for a secular law is clearly overridden by Article 3 of the Constitution which states that no law shall contravene the tenets and provisions of Islam. It is a country with its Constitution at odds with itself. The criminal justice system is virtually non-existent outside the main towns which cause women like Najiba to suffer at the hands of criminals who are self-appointed judge, jury and executioners. There are more lawless areas than law-abiding areas in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan is not a country but a region with many “pockets of influence” with each pocket having a warlord with his own sphere of influence. Some of the present day governors are erstwhile Mujahideen Commanders. They have exchanged their combat outfit for a three-piece suit. Their sphere of power and influence grows, shrinks and grows over a period of time like waxing and waning of the moon. It can be understood more like a lion country where each lion pride marks out its territory. The bigger the pride, the bigger the territory. Sometimes when lion territories overlap fights break out and the bigger pride shows the smaller pride who is the boss and where its territory starts and where it ends. Lesser carnivores like leopards, cheetahs, jackals are the bystanders who will flee at the slightest hint of trouble coming their way.
Afghanistan is the same – more the men and muscle – more the territory and more the bargaining power with the centre. Pashtuns are the high-class brahmins of Afghanistan, who belong to the Sunni school of Islam, they look down on lesser mortals like Hazaras who are Shias and are considered as the backward class. Uzbeks and Tajiks as the name suggests are from the erstwhile Soviet regions of present-day Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Pashtuns cannot see eye to eye with Hazaras. Their congregations are separate, and they live separately. Inter-marriages between Pashtuns and Hazaras is a taboo and the parties if they do get involved can face the fate of Najiba if caught.
The people of Afghanistan have it bad, and the women have it worse. It is a curse to be born as a woman in Afghanistan. A woman when she comes of age has to be married or rather has to be sold. There is a question of ‘Mehar’ or ‘dowry’ which is paid by the bridegroom to the parents of the bride. Mehar and beauty quotient are directly proportional – more the beauty the more is the Mehar. The Consular Section is an education of sorts, where it is often seen that aged men having young wives are quite common (sometimes as high as 26 years age difference).
It is easy to fathom why men with good financial sense put aside a certain sum. Unlike other countries where money is set aside for the “rainy day” or “retirement” in Afghan scheme of things, it is also for what if a high ‘beauty quotient’ comes along. So when a high ‘beauty quotient’ does come along, a portion of the precious retirement savings comes in handy. And this is where the three-word divorce comes in handy because at any one time only four wives are allowed. So out goes the oldest and in comes the newest. Sounds so much like musical chair!!!
There was a curious case of a young man who against all logic and stereotypes fell in love with an Afghan woman and wanted to marry her. The story is good so far, but the first hurdle was ‘Mehar’. Since money was something he did not have, in his naivety he approached his father, who listened very carefully to the story recounted by his son. His son promised the father to pay back every penny of Mehar right from the first salary he would get. Father was curious to find out more about the girl who had captivated his son. So the son arranged for a meeting. But then the story goes haywire from this point.
The father too fell in love with the girl his son was proposing to marry. So the boy’s father approaches the girl’s father and agrees to pay double the Mehar for the girl and the girl’s father agrees. The story ends with the father getting a wife and son getting a mother. Heartbreak for one, amusing for many. There was another incident involving two sisters one of whom fell in love with a man in the neighbourhood. Soon the other sister finds out and starts taunting and threatening the other endlessly for fun. Unable to bear the taunt the one in love sits in a public park consumes rat poison. The public on seeing a woman frothing at the mouth takes her to the hospital, where she is declared brought dead.
The father on hearing that one of his daughters has died gets a heart attack and is taken to the hospital. The other sister on realizing how her folly has led to the death of one and nearly killed the other and unable to bear the guilt takes her own life. The father eventually recovers from his heart attack and brought home. On entering the home he finds two coffins neatly laid out. He asks the people around him “Only one daughter of mine has died, why there are two coffins?” For every sad story that comes to light, there are ten others that are buried under the dust and forgotten, and it is always a tragedy that makes a great story. If Najiba had married and lived happily ever after it is not a great story worth recounting, but it is the tragedy which makes it riveting.