The children playing with the worn out and rusted piece of barbed wire fence and their mothers saying that they are freest in the jail and fear being murdered if let free. Can there be a better metaphor than this for life? I think not.
Sima, for example, could have stayed home with the elderly husband to give birth to many more children accepting a daily beating. Now she has only 5 children and lives in a relative safety of a prison for at least 15 years, and at the end of those 15 years, her husband will be an old man with potentially less brutality and less physical vigor to violate her. There is a community in the jail and the women live like a family beyond the grip of menfolk who keep them constrained in the society.
When last searched, Nadjibe had been transferred to some other prison for her unruly behavior. Despite the series of tragedies that befell upon her, she was the one to ask the prison guards to be more accountable. And she roared like a lion: "Nobody in the earth can beat me" when one of her friends threatened to beat her if she once again attacked the prison guard.
Not that I am romanticizing the miserable lives of these poor women. My point is, life is not always about black and white; there exists a grey zone and thereby take place the biggest struggle of our lives. The blackness in the life of these women has some definitive white spots and the brightness in our own lives does have some definitive dark spots.
From a macro or a societal perspective, it would be a crime to euphemize the despair, torment and misery in the lives of these women because the gender-based discrimination leading to such inequality and brazen oppression of the women has to be resisted at any cost. The same, however, does not hold true on the micro or a personal perspective. These women have to first live and see the day of the light to plan for another day. And to survive the daily onslaughts, they have to get around the day-to-day obstacles. It is during these steps in life that they learn to struggle and to say 'no' to established norms. While such tactics of these women may not form the part of an overarching process aimed at 'liberating' them, they do live through these and these form the important parts of their lives.
While the media across the world are awash with analysis of worst-case scenario for Afghanistan after the imminent departure of the foreign forces, let me predict a best case scenario: the Afghan security forces somehow avoid being overwhelmed by the Taliban despite the terrible cost of widespread conflict. The cohort of women who have enjoyed the relative security and progress over the decade since fall of the Taliban meanwhile engage in a low-intensity but continuous drive to improve the living conditions of fellow women in the country. Despite recent assassination of a top woman police officer by the rebels, there is absolutely no scope for pessimism among the women in Afghanistan today.
While a lofty goal of liberating all Afghan women at a time may be impossible to achieve, educating and avoiding forced marriage of a single girl saves a life from devastation and nurtures a potential fighter in a protracted struggle against discriminatory norms of the society. That is why the stories of Nadjibe, Sima and Sara need not make us predict doom for the Afghan women.
(My special gratitude for Nima Sarvestani for the wonderful documentary 'No burqas behind bars' which has captured the lives of many Afghan women including the three described in this article. Sarvestani's earlier documentary 'I was worth fifty sheep' was equally elegant and I have reviewed it earlier in this blog. I hope to meet him some day and have a serious discussion about life in Afghanistan.)