Author Masha Hamilton alerted me to an astonishing letter she received. Meena, the author of the letter, went to Kandahar (a long-conservative city and home to the Taliban during Mullah Omar days) to interview the schoolgirls who were attacked in November when radicals threw acid at them. Several girls were disfigured and two blinded in the attack. Here is her note as she sent it to Masha:.
I found Kandahar to be very quiet and isolated. According to people, many middle class families have left the province to live in Kabul or emigrate back to Pakistan and Iran. A lot of the people I met were mainly complaining about unemployment and poverty. There were only a few restaurants and hotels in the whole city. According to the natives the only well paid jobs are with the foreign NGOs and many think it is a big risk to take.
I was staying in a dormitory along with eight other absolutely adorable girls from Uruzgan and Helmand who were studying to be midwives. Surprisingly all of these girls were Persian speaking Shia citizens of their provinces where they make a very tiny minority. While asking them about the conditions in their home provinces they told me that in Uruzgan Persian speaking people have their won communities, where government has more power and Taliban are not very powerful. The also told me that Pashtuns do not let their daughters to go to school or work that is the reason why majority of the doctors, nurses and teaches are Persian speaking Shias although, in these provinces Pashtuns make the majority. According to the girls they do not even wear a burqa in Helmand and Uruzgan while they are inside their own communities. Nafisa from Helmand told me that her mother runs a special class in her house for the girls who have dropped out of school. The home school is supported by the government so her mother is paid about three and a half thousand Afghani (almost 60 USD) a month. This is a very good income in Helmand. She told me that because the government sometime helps the course students with some wheat and cooking oil, even some very conservative families let their daughters and wives to attend the class. (From this you can see how severe the poverty really is).
I was shocked when Sohila and I were stopped to enter a restaurant because we did not have a male relative with us (absolutely like Taliban rules).on the streets you can only see a few women after 12:00 at noon. Almost every woman wears a burqa and sacks to cover their feet. People over all but women especially looked so much scared of the Taliban. They were almost paranoid about it. They thought that Taliban follow each and every of them and can hurt them and their families anytime.
Unlike Kabul I did not see many signs of the central government (like our national flag, Posters of the President and etc..). The only photos even in the government owned vehicles I noticed were of the late King, Zaher Shah, and Kandahar’s former governor Gul Agha Sherzoi, who seemed to be very popular. Surprisingly, a majority of the police in Kandahar were Persian speaking (looked to me more from Parwan and Panjshair) with little familiarity to Pashto language and Pashtun culture. While asking why that would be from a Taxi driver and a friend their reply was that the government does not trust Kandaharis because they can be sympathetic to Taliban.
I met eleven out of the thirteen girls (the media was wrong about fifteen or sixteen) from the acid attack and their families. All of them had great hatred for Taliban but meanwhile had no faith in their own central government. Asking some Shias about their religious freedom in Kandahar, they were very happy that they were being somewhat treated equally by the central government.
Just a very interesting story, one of the men named Naim who had sprayed acid on the girls was not caught by the police but his own mother called the police after watching the news and told them about her suspicions about his son’s involvement in the attack. Naim was tortured and killed in Police custody.
Wearing a burqa was a very interesting experience. It was the first time I ever wore a burqa for that long. Just after getting out of the airport , my friend Sohila, who was already wearing a burqa, asked me to wear mine. I did wear mine but I pulled up the front part meaning my face was not covered. The plan was for Mr. Ted to go with a car that our contact from Human Rights commission sent. And for us was to go in a taxi, whose drivers was a family friend to Sohila. We said good bye but suddenly my instincts told me not to trust the driver of the car. Wearing my burqa but not covering my face I ran to stop the car and go in the same car with Mr. Ted. Behind me Sohila was getting mad and shouting “You are not supposed to be running with a burqa on and without covering your face”. But I did.
Of course wearing a burqa was uncomfortable but it was easy to deal with. The hardest part for me was that I had to wear a burqa because of fear of the Taliban and men’s injustice in our societies. I was wearing a burqa not because I wanted to but because I had to. Finally I decided that I would not cover my face. And I would deal with whatever might happen. It was not really like Taliban will beat you or something they do not have that much power. But people would stare at you and gave you bad looks. Of course my friend Sohila did not let me do it all the time but whenever she was not there I did it. Once after dropping Sohila home. I got myself a Pepsi and asked the driver to go through Bazar. I uncovered my burqa, relaxed and drunk my Pepsi. Nothing really happened but made me feel much better. During the nights I slept in a room with four other girls. Till late we all would be chatting. These girls were of ages 16 to 18 and some married and two already mothers. In the first night they were shy and quite but the other nights we made really good friends. I asked them about different things in their provinces especially women rights. I was so mad when almost all of them thought it is fine for men to beat their wives and sisters. And the best thing for a Muslims woman is to keep quiet and have patience. I talked a lot to them about women in Islam. They looked so thirsty for information. I told them that If it is fine for Prophet (PBUH) to divorce his wife why not for us, who are nothing but ordinary followers of him. If in the Quran it says that Nekah is Sunnah (Actions Prophet (PBUH) has done and Divorce is Farz (Muslim’s duty if husband and wife are not happy). Then who are we to do the opposite. While talking to them I felt that I would for sure work for women rights all through Afghanistan but especially in Pashtun areas. These girls told me that they are still very lucky to be born as Persian speaking. What would they do if they were Pashtun women? They girls absolutely loved the freedom we have in Kabul. It was just great for them. They had a feeling that they can not do anything. others need to change things for them. For example Nafisa from Helmad told me that “I can not wait for Americans to take out every woman’s burqa in Helmand and Kandahar”. I told her it is only us, Afghan women, who can and who will do this. It taught me something. I wear my Islamic hejab and if Allah willing I will always but I hope every Afghan women would be able to follow their religion based on their own version and personal believes, They will do it because they want to not because they have to.
Over all I found Kandaharis to be one of the biggest victims of Taliban. They are very much in need of help. They are poor, illiterate and very easy targets for Taliban to use.
Meena Yousufzai YES ‘08
January 4th , 2009