Woman Who Wrote About Life Under the Taliban Is Killed

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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 after 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 madrasa, the Al Jihad madrasa, in Sarrai Kala village," said Dawlat Khan Zadran, the provincial police chief in Paktika. "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. She was in her 40s and was well known both for her fame as a convert to Islam who had written a book about her life and for her work as a midwife.

In India, which she frequently visited, she was still known by her Hindu name and is referred to in news articles there both as Sushmita Banerjee and Sushmita Bandopadhyay.

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. "This is what I heard from close family members."

Although locals were quick to blame the Taliban for her killing, both local and national Taliban spokesmen denied responsibility for her death, saying that they did not execute people without a trial. (Though the Taliban do frequently hold trials, they generally have predetermined outcomes, and the militants are widely documented as having conducted executions with no trial at all. Still, they are often reluctant to admit or discuss killing women.)

Zabiullah Mujahid, the Taliban's spokesman for the east and north of Afghanistan, said: "We checked with our local Taliban fighters in the area and they also heard the reports and allegations that the Taliban were behind the assassination of this woman who had converted to Islam. But this is the enemy's propaganda that is blaming us for killing a woman."

Her husband was too distraught to talk to reporters after her death, but police officials said that in keeping with Muslim practice, he buried her body in Paktika soon after it was found.

Sharifullah Sahak and Farooq Jan Mangal contributed reporting.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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