Indian woman who wrote about Taliban is shot dead

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KABUL, Afghanistan -- The author of a popular memoir of life under the Taliban that was made into a major Bollywood movie was shot dead early Thursday morning, 18 years after militant leaders sentenced her to death because she refused to wear a burqa in public.

Sushmita Banerjee, who wrote about her experiences as an Indian woman married to an Afghan in her first book, "Kabuliwala's Bengali Wife," was abducted by masked men just after midnight. The attackers broke into the couple's home in the eastern province of Paktika, tied both up, but then left Ms. Banerjee's husband behind when they took her away.

"They took her to their madrassa, the Al Jihad madrassa, in Sarrai Kala village," said Dawlat Khan Zadran, Paktika's provincial police chief. "She was shot 25 times. We don't know why she was killed."

The couple lived in a village on the edge of Sharana, the capital of Paktika. Her brother-in-law, Zaher Khan, and civil society activists said she was locally called Sahib Kamala, and was well known both for her fame as a convert to Islam who had written a book about her life and also for her work as a midwife.

Her book tells the story of her move to Afghanistan after meeting and marrying Jaanbaz Khan, an Afghan Muslim, over the objections of her Hindu parents. After the Taliban took over Paktika province, where she lived with her husband's family, she was persecuted and whipped for refusing to wear a burqa and was ultimately sentenced to death by the Taliban.

She managed to flee Afghanistan after at least two failed attempts, making her way to India. According to Indian news articles written after her book was published in 1998, her husband eventually joined her there.

She stayed in India and sold her story to Bollywood producers, who cast a well-known actress, Manisha Koirala, to play her and released the movie, "Escape From Taliban," in 2003. Subsequently, she said the film version distorted the story and unfairly demonized her husband and Afghan family.

After the fall of the Taliban, she traveled between Afghanistan and India, but spent most of her time in India until recently, said Mohammadullah Himmatyar, a prominent local resident. "The Taliban were looking for her," he said.

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