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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 40, September 21, 2013

Message from a Lady of Exceptional Courage

Sunday 22 September 2013



Vivek Kumar Srivastava

Why is the killing of Sushmita Banerjee so impactful for India, the world and women in particular? Not for the reason that she was assassinated in a gruesome manner by those people who still symbolise primitiveness in the modern age, but for the reason that she was a symbol of courage, steadfastness, and unflinching faith in human values and lived with a concern for the common people who had no other option in life except to coexist with the orthodoxies, diseases and illiteracy. She fought against these three deficiencies of the Afghan society in her own way.

Her courage was absolute as she faced those who were the hardest to be dealt with in a potent manner and that too by the fair sex. Her courage was manifest in the Indian women’s culture of courage. Her book, A Kabuliwala’s Bengali Wife (Kababuliwalar Bangali Bou), revealed that she was inspired by Rani Laxmi Bai, a symbol of courage during British rule and by Mrs Gandhi, a symbol of courage in the contem-porary world.

She knew it well that it was not possible to live in a peaceful manner in a highly aggressive society unless courage was exhibited in every walk of life. Her memoirs depict how she managed in difficult and complex situations only with the element of faith on her capabilities. For a normal lady it is very hard to live and acclimatise in an archaic society. She, on the other hand, committed herself to the ideals of a life of love and affection. She did not turn her face from the problems prevailing in her surroundings but in fact demonstrated that her commitment was more valuable than enjoying the comforts of peace. This belief places her in an important position in the domain of human relationship, Knowing well that the prevailing conditions were not so supportive to her, she continued to live in Afghanistan amid much threat to her life and existence.

An author in the true sense is always fearless and works continually to bring out the truth through her writings in novels and true stories before a vast section of the society, particularly before those who need enlightenment on any issue. The first real account about the life and working pattern of the Taliban was brought to us by the writings of Sushmita Banerjee. Her book, a memoir, did show explicitly the real life-experiences and the Taliban’s working style.

She is therefore a contemporary historian with an eye on the minutest detail. Her book is a primary source material to study the Afghan society and the working of terrorist outfits. It was very much possible that in due course of time she would have produced a new work on the Taliban. She had recently returned to Afghanistan with the same objective. She had mentally decided to produce another work on the Taliban.

She thus lived a complete life as an authoress and never compromised on her writings. Her death is a real loss to all who in some way or the other are fully or partially connected with the writing world. She truly established that projecting realistic trends must be the canon of a writer writing on contemporary issues.

Her assassination also highlights the other side of life where women are disempowered and have little chance to survive in a dignified way. The orthodoxies have prevented them from leading a life of liberty and happiness. Sushmita worked on this issue in an earnest manner, her writings and the work at the local level were aimed to create awareness among the local populace to look beyond the present and build a better future. She was involved in social work, upliftment of the people in the intellectual domain. She was engaged in ensuring improve-ment of the quality of life of women at the grassroots. Her way of working freely in a closed society was necessarily an attempt to empower women at large.

She aimed to show that women of different ethnicities, nations or cultures are not different from each other. They are first women than anything else. Their identity is primarily at the gender level, the rest are subordinate to it. Hence her great contribution lies in establishing the gender identity that a woman can enjoy the liberty to live, marry and work the way she wishes to. This is her message not only to Afghan women but also to all women of South Asia where they are faced with such problems at the societal level that ultimately destroy their will to succeed, to create an identity and live happily, and it suppresses their hidden talent with the passage of time.

Her own activities and work remind every woman that she can do a lot, the only need is to organise and work in a sustained manner without the fear of suppression. This is a great lesson which needs to be learnt by every woman of the world who finds herself in any sort of troubled state of affairs.

The message is clear. Her brief life may turn into an example. This philosophical adage has been proved by Sushmita Banerjee. Her assassination highlights other important truths, that fearlessness is the ultimate attribute and weapon in today’s conflict-prone society and fearlessness has remained the major feature of all great persons, that life can be lived on one’s own terms, a lesson every suppressed woman must learn.

There is another element of concern in this killing: that orthodoxies are on the rise in South Asia, and thus many neighbouring countries are under stress. India is democratic society but such elements are in abundance here too even if they are lying low at present. They are waiting for the right opportunity to strike at the root of democracy and liberty. Women are the easiest objects of their attacks. Therefore the need to learn from this event that a collective force is needed to fight them. Women must learn from Sushmita’s killing that they are always under threat and collectiveness and fearlessness will save them from such elements. They must link her sacrifice with the thoughts of Pandit Nehru that protecting liberty is more difficult than to gain it; hence all must come together.

Years will pass and the events of today will become a part of history, but the sacrifice of Sushmita will remain a glowing chapter in history books. Her death is inspiring in the same way as her life was.

The author is the Vice-Chairman, CSSP, Kanpur.

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