She had mentioned that she was facing death threats from militants, says friend

Once they absorbed the shock of her violent end, friends of Sushmita Banerjee, who was reportedly killed in Afghanistan by militants, started remembering the person Sushmita.

“She was vivacious, exuberant and bold,” said Tamal Basu, who counted himself among her friends in the city till she left for Kabul some years ago. “Yes, I knew her closely and we connected well… She was so full of life... But she had mentioned to me that she was facing death threats from militants for writing a book on her experience in Afghanistan,” said Mr. Basu.

Banerjee also came under attack for not converting to Islam upon her marriage.

Banerjee had come into the limelight after writing her trilogy documenting her experiences in Kabul after marrying an Afghan money lender. She had moved to Kabul between 1989 and 1995, to be with her husband, Jaanbaz Khan.

Her books – Kabuliwalar Bangali Bou (A Kabuliwala’s Bengali Wife), Taliban, Afghan O Ami (Taliban, Afghan and I) and Ek Borno Mithya Noi (Not a Grain of Untruth) sparked widespread interest and was also made into a Hindi and film in 2003 under the name ‘Escape from Taliban’.

However during her visits to the city, where she was very active socially, she would often mention how she was threatened by militants for writing on the Afghan society and the plight of women there. She escaped from Afghanistan where she worked as a health worker and reportedly also filmed the lives of women. Her husband, whose business interests lay in the city, had said how her writings might put his family in trouble back home.

Quoting police, news agencies said on Thursday that Banerjee (aged about 50) was taken outside her home in Paktika province and shot dead. Her body was dumped near a religious school.

Mr. Basu said that although she was very active socially, she was also keen to do something for the underprivileged and had wanted to start an NGO. Another friend Anamitra Chakraborty remembered here as a person full of life who dared to be different.

Literary world expresses anguish

Several prominent names of the Bengali literary world expressed deep aguish and shock over the killing of Banerjee describing her as a “courageous woman”.

Author and Magsaysay award winner Mahasweta Devi said it is “very unfortunate” that such a thing could happen to an author in the 21st century.

Author Nabanita Dev Sen said she was shocked at the news and never believed that such an incident could take place.

“She had taken too much risk”

“She had written a lot of things which was unpleasant for the Taliban and by returning to the country, she had taken too much risk,” Ms Sen said, adding that this was a “brave but not a wise decision.”

“I am proud that as an Indian woman, Sushmita Banerjee experienced a different culture and wrote about it,” she said.

Commenting on her memoirs, well-known Bengali author Sirshendu Mukhopadhya said that through her writings she had described the hardship of living in Afghanistan under Afghan laws, where women are treated as second grade citizens and domesticated animals.

“She was a courageous woman who loved her husband and devoted her life to him,” Mr. Mukhopadhyay said, adding that Afghanistan remains a difficult land where none is safe.

“We have also read that Malala Yousafzai was shot at in Afghanistan and now we hear that Banerjee has been killed,” he said. (Friends names have been changed on request)