Afghan women – uncertain times ahead

Almost a year and half ago, as the world watched helplessly from the comforts of their living rooms, the Taliban- a violent, religiously fanatic, and militant group took over Afghanistan with blitzkrieg speed. A lot of us could not help but think of Rabindra Nath Tagore’s short story Kabuli Wala. The famous story which was also adapted into feature film in many Indian languages was about a fruit seller from Kabul who would come to India for a few months every year to sell dry fruits. Feeling extremely homesick, he befriended a little girl Mini who reminded him of his own daughter. Personally, I found it very difficult to resist myself from comparing Tagore’s Kabuli Wala with that of present day Talibani men. Even though outwardly, just like the former, the Talibani men too appeared turbaned, bearded and in Pathan suits, but what a contrast between the dreadful Taliban and the soft-hearted Kabuli Wala who was full of filial love! On one hand, it was heartening and quite relatable to see tender side of Kabuli Wala as he showed longing for his daughter and also the sweet bond that got created between him and the little girl Mini, whom he would meet in the by-lanes of Calcutta while selling dry fruits… miles away from his homeland. While, on the other hand, we get to see crude, ruthless and insensitive face of the Taliban. Interestingly, not just Tagore’s Mini, but generations of Indian boys and girls especially those living in Kolkata, have grown up seeing friendly, sober and responsible Kabuli Walas. Hence it is natural for the Indians to think about them and their family’s safety in this hour of grave crisis. How are they coping with this situation of un-certainties? How are they taking care of their families? We have got no idea.

In August 2021 the scenario was such that it was difficult to perceive what the future held for this country. Though, Taliban had come to power very swiftly, the real challenge for them remained in running the government after inheriting an Afghan economy which was badly damaged by severe droughts, poverty, unemployment besides them being denied access to Afghanistan’s cash and gold reserves deposited in overseas banks. They were aware that international aid was required for their economic revival as money gained through illegal means (opium cultivation etc) alone couldn’t sail them through. Therefore, they had resorted to the idea of projecting themselves as an inclusive, moderate, and reformed fundamentalists. But honestly, from the very first day the ground reality looked like they were divided into many factions and groups. How would they take all their stakeholders along and manage all fronts has been a question mark right from the beginning.

Amidst all the chaos that had unfurled in the country, another matter of deep concern was how would the present day Taliban regime handle the interests of their women and girls. Even though, there was an attempt to look liberal initially so as to gain acceptance, but the fact is those projections were too hard to believe as the world has been a witness to a once progressive nation being pushed a few centuries back. Surprisingly, years ago, the position of women in Afghanistan was not dependent upon the mercy of some backdated extremist group as it is today. On the contrary they were protected under the law. The sad part is those who had received the right to vote in the 1920s, right to equality by 1960s, contributed to the development of the nation with their professional skills are being caged time and again by this extremist militia since the 1990s. Honestly, it takes years for a country to reform and develop and once it attains that position it becomes all the more difficult to revert back to backward ways of living, throwing away all that it has toiled to acquire. Who could forget the horrific ways in which Taliban had instituted a system of gender apartheid in the 1990s, forcing their women into a state of virtual house arrest. They were stripped of their basic rights – right to get educated, voicing their opinion, opportunities of being financially independent, their visibility and mobility. These are some of the basic human rights and not over-the-board demands. Thus, they should not be denied to anybody, let alone denying it to a woman. Discrimination based on gender, not letting someone live with dignity and treat someone as if he/she is insignificant is absolutely uncalled for in any healthy and thriving society.

Image by brgfx on Freepik

Whatever they claim but the fact remains that right from the time the present day regime took over they have maintained a rigid and unresponsive attitude towards the welfare of women and girls. As bit by bit they have categorically debarred women of their basic rights. Firstly, the girls were stopped from attending secondary schools, Female aid workers were debarred from their jobs. And, lately, a couple of weeks ago,  a ban has been imposed on women attending universities. No doubt, this reflects Taliban’s intentions when it comes to women. But on the other hand if reports are to be believed then a few of the top brass Taliban officials are helping their daughters continue their studies overseas. Why this double standard behavior with their fellow citizens? The literal meaning of Taliban is ‘students’ or ‘seekers of knowledge’. But the irony is they are restricting half their population to embark on a journey of seeking knowledge. Isn’t it a valid point to ponder? We all must contemplate upon the plight this sudden turn of events has caused for the women in this part of the world.  As for most of us, the end of academic freedom means to stop dreaming about future and Afghan women are no different. Everything looks quite vague at present, but does someone realize, this uncertainty and despair that the women and girls of Afghanistan are facing is both traumatizing and paralyzing them as they see no light at the end of the tunnel for themselves.

The world must keep aside its political brinkmanship for now as Afghanistan is on the verge of a humanitarian crisis. We all should unite against barbaric acts and marginalization of women. If we think it is not our problem and that we are safe, then we are highly mistaken. It could be their problem today, but if not addressed now than it could become a headache for the rest of the world later. We just can’t afford to turn our faces away from this problem. If the rights and security of Afghan women does not take precedence now, then we should be ready to entertain Taliban’s nuisances in our own backyard in due course of time. You never know, what we see now could just be the tip of an iceberg. Therefore, if the world can do nothing about this issue, then at least it can ensure that the girls and women of Afghanistan is not barred from their basic rights of education and health care facilities.

– Aradhana Basu Das


  1. I think condition of women there is not due to afgan or taliban – it’s due to grip of radical Islamist thought. So it can happen anywhere n some other places it’s already happening. Afgans in general are large hearted people; hardened in life due to their desert climet.
    So a kabuliwala at (or later) Tagor’s time may not had been as wooshy-wishy in his real life as those stories n sights made us believe n must be duely cruel when they felt need; but they surely were/are good people.
    One more problem I see in our Indian (may as well be other countries too, but I only have experience here) view-point: romanticizing life based on poems, stories n tells is ok till childhood n using little romanticizam using these in adulthood just for entertainment is also ok; but beyond that, we must consider it’s a hard life which may not be always fair from our viewpoint.


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