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Indian author slain in Afghanistan by militants

September 05, 2013|By Hashmat Baktash and Mark Magnier
  • Indian author Sushmita Banerjee holds one of her Bengali-language novels, "Mullah Omar, Taliban and Me," in Kolkata.
Indian author Sushmita Banerjee holds one of her Bengali-language novels,… (Deshakalyan Chowdhury…)

KABUL, Afghanistan — Indian author Sushmita Banerjee, an advocate for women's rights who wrote a book about her escape from the Taliban, was slain by Afghan militants, authorities said Thursday.

Mukhlis Afghan, a spokesman for the governor of southeastern Afghanistan's Paktika province, said the Taliban took Banerjee, 49, from her house and killed her in Sharana, the provincial capital. Her body was reportedly dumped near a religious school.

Banerjee had converted to Islam, married Afghan businessman Jaanbaz Khan and was working as a midwife in a private hospital in Paktika, said Afghan, who termed her death a huge loss and a violation of women’s rights.

She was reportedly shot multiple times just before midnight Wednesday. Her family performed the last rites Thursday morning.

Banerjee, known in Afghanistan as Sayed Kamala, was busy filming the lives of local women as part of her work as a healthcare provider, which may have upset militants in the area who have a history of launching attacks on prominent women. Others said extremists may have tracked her down after hearing that her book denigrated the Taliban.

Banerjee's memoir, “A Kabuliwala's Bengali Wife,” detailed life in Afghanistan and her dramatic escape from the Taliban in the mid-1990s. “Escape from Taliban,” a Bollywood movie based on the book, was released in 2003, turning her into something of a celebrity in India.

In her memoir, Banerjee says life was “tolerable” in Afghanistan until the Taliban cracked down in 1993, ordering her to close the small pharmacy she ran from her house and branding her “a woman of poor morals.” She fled to Pakistan in 1994, she wrote, but her brother-in-law found her in Islamabad and forced her back to Afghanistan, concerned that her actions brought shame to the family.

“They kept me under house arrest and branded me an immoral woman,” she wrote. “The Taliban threatened to teach me a lesson. I knew I had to escape.”

She dug a tunnel through the mud walls of the house and fled, she wrote, only to be picked up by 15 Taliban members near Kabul who threatened to execute her for leaving her husband. Ultimately, she wrote, she was able to convince them that as an Indian she had the right to return to her country. They took her to the Indian Embassy the next day and she eventually returned to her homeland, where she met up with her husband.

By some accounts, she had recently moved back to Afghanistan with the belief that she had put the Taliban years behind her.

In other developments, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization said a member of the international military coalition was killed Thursday during an attack in eastern Afghanistan. The alliance did not provide details.

Early Thursday, two Pakistani militants in police uniforms carrying AK-47 assault rifles, pistols and bayonets attacked civilians as they prayed in a mosque in Kabul, the Afghan capital. The attackers encountered strong resistance from worshipers and Afghan security forces patrolling in the area, the National Directorate of Security intelligence agency said in a statement. Both assailants were shot dead.

Three civilians were wounded in the attack, the statement said.

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mark.magnier@latimes.com

Twitter: @markmagnier

Special correspondent Baktash reported from Kabul and Times staff writer Magnier from New Delhi.

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