An Indian woman returns with the Taliban chapter of her life

Their story began in Russia, got caught in Cold War when they moved to Kabul, became a nightmare later


KOZHIKODE: Sushmita Bandopadhyay married an Afghan and went to Afghanistan, lived under the Taliban’s ultra-fundamentalist thumb and escaped to tell her story.
Dhanya Raveendran married an Afghan and went to Afghanistan, lived under the Taliban’s fundamentalist thumb and stayed on to tell her story: of wearing a burqa and secretly teaching children, of witnessing the end of fanaticism and the birth of hope.
Dhanya was back home, in Pozhuthana near Vythiri in Kerala’s Wayanad district, with her husband Humayun Khoram, their three-year-old son Naveen and two-year-old daughter Mallika. In fact, she was in India when the Taliban captured Kabul in 1996.
‘‘We were spending our holidays here. An Indian Airlines flight from Amritsar took us back to the city one cold January morning, just days before Mullah Mohammed Omar started imposing restrictions on the presence of women in public places. The flight crew asked me to cover my head at least with a big shawl before leaving the plane,’’ Dhanya, a employee with the office of International Red Cross in Kabul, told The Indian Express.
‘‘When I reached the airport, I noticed that a group of bearded religious men had replaced the staff. They directed me to destroy all film song cassettes, photographs and handicrafts purchased from India,’’ the 30-year-old recalled.
Dhanya’s is a love affair that unfolded against the backdrop of the Great Game that was being played out in Afghanistan by the Soviets and the Americans. She met Khoram in St Petersburg in Russia in the early nineties at the Civil and Architecture Institute. They went to Kabul a year after their marriage.
The couple’s Russian connection ensured that they were put under stringent surveillance by the Taliban. ‘‘After all, my wife was a foreigner who follows a different faith. And we both were graduates from Russia. This was a time when the Taliban were hellbent on burning chunks of Russian literature,’’ 36-year-old Khoram, who now works as a translator with a business magazine Ire Tabat, said.
Dhanya was cut off from her parents during the five-odd years that the Taliban lorded over Afghanistan. ‘‘We didn’t have any telephonic or postal communication with Dhanya’s aged parents in Wayanad,’’ Khoram said.
He didn’t just have to abandon his Western attire, but also his engineering job because of a freeze on construction. Khoram had to start trading in iron rods to get by. While Dhanya, now concealed under a burqa, risked her life, like so many other Afghan women, and held clandestine spoken English classes for children in the neighbourhood. But Kabul remains the place Dhanya calls home, and she now has reason to return.
‘‘The dark days of Taliban rule won’t come back. The common people and the international community are adamant that fanatics won’t be given another chance to rule Afghanistan,’’ she said.
(The Indian Express, January 14, 2003)

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