Calcutta, India (present-day Kolkata, India)
|Died||4/5 September 2013 (aged 49)
Paktika Province, Afghanistan
|Notable works||Kabuliwalar Bangali Bou
(A Kabuliwala's Bengali Wife)
Sushmita Banerjee, also known as Sushmita Bandhopadhyay and Sayeda Kamala (1963/1964 – 4/5 September 2013), was a writer and activist from India. Her works include the memoir Kabuliwalar Bangali Bou (A Kabuliwala's Bengali Wife; 1997) based on her experience of marrying an Afghan and her time in Afghanistan during Taliban rule. The story was used as the basis for the Bollywood film Escape from Taliban.
At the age of 49, she was killed by suspected Taliban militants during the evening of 4 September or in the early morning hours of 5 September 2013, outside her home in Paktika Province, Afghanistan.
Sushmita Banerjee was born in Calcutta West Bengal (present-day Kolkata, India) to a middle-class Bengali Brahmin family. Her father worked in the civil defence department and her mother, a homemaker. She was the only sister to her three brothers. She first met her future husband Janbaz Khan, an Afghan businessman, at a theatre rehearsal in Calcutta. She married him on 2 July 1988. The marriage took place secretly in Kolkata, as she feared her parents would object to the inter-religious marriage. When her parents tried to get them divorced, she fled to Afghanistan with Khan. She discovered that her husband already had a first wife, Gulguti, when she found them in bed together. Although shocked, she continued to live in Khan's ancestral house in Patiya village, with her three brothers-in-law, their wives, and with Gulguti and Gulguti's children. Later, Khan returned to Kolkata to continue his business, but Banerjee could not return. Sayeda, a trained nurse in gynaecology, opened a clinic to help the women of the village.
With the burgeoning Taliban power in Afghanistan, Banerjee witnessed fundamentalist changes occurring in the country. In a 2003 interview, she said that the plight of women in particular got worse. Women were banned from talking with men other than family members, they were not allowed outside home. Schools, colleges, and hospitals were shut down. Taliban men discovered her clinic and beat her severely in May 1995.
Banerjee made two abortive attempts to flee Afghanistan. She was caught and kept in house arrest in the village. A fatwa was issued against her and she was scheduled to die on 22 July 1995. With the help of the village headman, she finally fled from the village, in the process killing three Taliban men with an AK-47 rifle. She reached Kabul, and took a flight back to Kolkata on 12 August 1995.
She lived in India until 2013, and published several books. After returning to Afghanistan, she worked as a health worker in Paktika Province in southeastern Afghanistan, and began filming the lives of local women.
According to Afghan police, suspected Taliban terrorists forced entry into her house in Paktika on the night of 4 September 2013. They bound her husband and absconded with her. Her corpse was found early the next day beside a madrasa in the outskirts of the provincial capital Sharana. The body had 20 bullet hole marks. Police surmised she might have been targeted for murder for various reasons, including her book, her social work in the region, or merely the fact that she was an Indian woman, or according to others for not wearing a burqa, for which she was sentenced to death almost two decades earlier, under the Taliban regime. The Taliban denied involvement in this attack. Later a spokesman for renegade Taliban militia known as The Suicide Group of the Islamic Movement of Afghanistan announced it had killed Banerjee. The group, led by Mullah Najibullah, explained that they had kidnapped, interrogated and then murdered Banerjee because they believed she was "an Indian spy". Although some of her neighbours reflected that her death may have been partly caused by her not following local Afghan traditions, especially regarding the wearing of a burqa outside the home.
Sushmita Banerjee wrote Kabuliwalar Bangali Bou ("A Kabuliwala's Bengali Wife") in 1995. It recounted the tale of her love marriage to an Afghan businessman, Jaanbaz Khan, her moving to Afghanistan in 1989, the adversities she faced in Talibani Afghanistan, and her eventual escape back to Kolkata. In 2003, Escape from Taliban, a Bollywood film, starring Manisha Koirala was made based on the book.
She authored Talibani Atyachar—Deshe o Bideshe (Taliban atrocities in Afghanistan and Abroad), Mullah Omar, Taliban O Ami (Mullah Omar, Taliban and I) (2000), Ek Borno Mithya Noi (Not a Word is a Lie) (2001) and Sabhyatar Sesh Punyabani (The Swansong of Civilisation).
- "Indian author Sushmita Banerjee executed in Afghanistan by Taliban". The Times of India. 5 September 2013. Retrieved 5 September 2013.
- "Exclusive: Knowing Sushmita Banerjee". Rediff.com. 5 September 2013. Retrieved 5 September 2013.
- Narayan, Chandrika; Popalzai, Masoud (5 September 2013). "Afghan militants target, kill female author, police say". CNN. Retrieved 5 September 2013.
- "Indian diarist Sushmita Banerjee 'had no fear'". BBC News. 6 September 2013. Retrieved 7 September 2013.
- "Sushmita Banerjee was killed for not wearing burqa?". Zee News.
- "Indian diarist Sushmita Banerjee shot dead in Afghanistan". BBC News. 5 September 2013.
- Yousafzai, Sami and Moreau, Ron (14 September 2013) ‘We Killed Sushmita Banerjee’ Says Renegade Taliban Militia thedailybeast.com
- Mitra, Sumit (22 October 2001). "On hostile tract : Tales of Taliban barbarism by Afghan's Bengali wife become a bestseller, being filmed". India Today.
- "Kabuliwala's wife turns director". The Times of India. 15 May 2002. Retrieved 5 September 2013.