“In the eyes of Taliban, women are not living, breathing human beings, but merely some meat and flesh to be battered," said 33-year-old Khatera, who was shot by the insurgent fighters in Afghanistan’s Ghazni province last year and her eyes gouged out after the assault. She has been living with her husband and toddler for her treatment in Delhi since November 2020. It was her father, a former Taliban fighter, who conspired the attack on her, she told News18 in Delhi on Sunday.
Khatera, a former police personnel, was brutalised by the Taliban last year in October when she was two months pregnant. On her way back home from work, she was accosted by three Taliban fighters who checked her ID first, then shot her multiple times. She took eight bullets in her upper body and indiscriminate knife injuries all over. The Taliban pierced her eyes with knives after she fell unconscious and left her to die.
“They (Taliban) first torture us (women) and then discard our bodies to show as specimen of punishment. Sometimes our bodies are fed to dogs. I was lucky that I survived it. One has to live in Afghanistan under the Taliban to even imagine what hell has befallen on the women, children and minorities there," Khatera said.
In the past week, Kasturba Niketan in Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar area has lost its regular hustle bustle. The colony that is inhabited by refugees from Afghanistan has lost its sheen to constant trepidation. What now exists is an aura of tension. However, on Sunday, the foreboding was palpable with failed attempts of frantic phone calls to connect with families in a far-off homeland that fell to the Taliban.
Slaughter of Agencies for Women
Recalling the gut-wrenching incident, Khatera said that it was possible for her to move to Kabul and then Delhi for treatment because she had the finances for it. “This fortune is not available for all. Women and anyone who disobeys the Taliban die in the streets," she said.
Khatera took eight bullets in her upper body and indiscriminate knife injuries all over. (Image: Ahona Sengupta/News18
“The Taliban don’t allow women to visit male doctors, and at the same time, don’t let women study and work. So, then what is left for a woman? Left to die? Even if you think we are just reproductive machines, there is no common sense but pure hate. How does a woman deliver her child according to the dictum of these men with guns without medical care," she asked, holding her 2-month-old baby.
“It’s tough for the world to imagine what we built in the past 20 years. We built dreams. Now they are gone. It’s all over for us. Women who work with the government or police were being hunted and threatened even before the Taliban had taken over the country. Now, the concern has gone beyond letting women work. At this point, I am scared if they would leave these women alive. They don’t just kill women. They make animals feed on their bodies. They are a blot on Islam," she said.
“Our women and the youth had come a long way in these 20 years to reach somewhere; to find a stable livelihood, to get proper education. Women were filling up universities. It was a beautiful sight to see girls going to schools. All went down the drain in just a week. I even heard from my relatives that families have begun burning the educational certificates of girls to protect them from the Taliban," Khatera said.
In early July, the Taliban issued an order to local religious leaders to provide them with a list of girls over the age of 15 and widows under the age of 45 for marriage with its fighters in provinces of Badakhshan and Takhar.
The Taliban has recently said that they have relaxed their stance on women’s rights, but have signalled their intention to deny girls’ education past the age of 12, to ban women from employment and reinstate the law requiring women to be accompanied by a man. However, they have also said that the group “does not want violence".
“Not a single person who has survived the Taliban would believe this in anyway. Besides, Afghanistan is not just Kabul. The rural parts will be destroyed. The scale of ‘zulm’ (oppression) and cruelty that will descend on women, you will never even be able to imagine," Khatera said, adding that women will be stripped off all their agencies in one stroke.
“Our healthcare, our voices, our organisations won’t exist anymore because women won’t be allowed to work or be outside of their homes. What about those who don’t have a man in the house? Who will feed them? Those born in the early 2000s have only heard of the Taliban from their families. Now, they will face them again. It’s hellish," the young survivor rued.
Twenty-nine-year-old Shabnam, born and raised in Delhi, recollected some of the stories that her mother, who fled the war back in the 90s, would narrate to her. “She always had to carry a marriage certificate whenever she was out with my father. Once, a Talib pointed a gun at point-blank range because my father forgot documents." He had to fall to the armed fighter’s feet and plead to let them live, she said.
Taliban Inmates Now Roam Free
Khatera, who has five children back at her Ghazni home, expressed her dread for the Taliban after the takeover of Afghanistan as the insurgents have thrown open the gates of prisoners, releasing all the terrorists who were earlier arrested for their crimes under the elected government.
“I was tortured at a time when police had the power to act. Now, the Talibs will run amok. I am worried sick for my children back in Ghazni. Embassies are shut there so visas are not being issued," she said.
“Now my father will go after my children. Both my husband and I are not there with our children. They are at home with relatives. But my father will soon land there and may harm my children either physically or may induct them into the Taliban, encouraging them to take up arms and ruin their lives," she said. Khatera’s eldest son is 15 years old.
An Afghan civil rights activist, Nisar, shared the same cause of worry among others. “The Taliban released all the criminals from jails and these people will be back to the neighbourhoods and commit crimes against humanity. They will rape, loot and murder because they have free hand."
“Agar India visa dena shuru karegi toh poora Afghanistan nikalke ayega, itna khauf hai wahan (If India begins to issue visas in large numbers, then whole of Afghanistan would want to move out, the degree of terror is that much)."
Besides, the refugees here in Delhi will starve to death because most of our businesses here are dependent on Afghans back home, Nisar said.
Nadeem (name changed as requested), a 26-year-old former journalist, said, “I fled with my whole family to Delhi 10 months ago because we sensed danger. I was working as a journalist with 1TV channel in Kabul. My life was at threat because I was working in media. Even though Kabul was safe when I was fleeing, the lives of media professionals was at threat. We used to get calls from the Taliban."
In Delhi, he opened up a business that facilitates India-Afghanistan travel and visas, which now he thinks may have to be shelved as travelling will be restricted because of the Taliban.
Under the Taliban, men have to keep beards otherwise they are tortured, he said. “They are torturing everyone who has even remotely worked with the government or engaged with some sort of business. So, automatically almost everyone is at threat at this point," Nadeem said.
Nadeem, a former journnalist, opened up a business that facilitates India-Afghanistan travel and visas, which now he thinks may have to be shelved as travelling will be restricted because of the Taliban. (Image: Ahona Sengupta/News18
On Taliban’s promise of no violence, he said, “yeh sab bakwas hai (all that is rubbish)".
“My mother broke down this morning looking at news. Not just women, the Taliban will tear into the minorities in Afghanistan. The Hazaras, the Sikhs, the Shias – they have already begun butchering them in the rural areas, we are hearing from our families back home in Afghanistan."
“They either burn houses or loot or do both. It’s unbelievable how the Taliban advanced and occupied all the provinces without resistance. Without a fight! In a week! We are hopelessly praying that our families can escape this barbaric regime. We are so anxious," he said, visibly disturbed.
The spokesman for the Taliban’s political office on Sunday declared the war was over in Afghanistan and called for peaceful relations with the international community. Spokesman Mohammad Naeem said in interviews with Al Jazeera TV the Taliban did not want to live in isolation and the type of rule and the form of regime would be clear soon.