My Name Is Luka

It is common for those groping for reasons to justify Operation Enduring Fiefdom to invoke the subjugation of women. Without the American presence in Afghanistan, so goes the argument, Afghan women would suffer.

Problem is, those women are suffering now. While the Taliban and their associates are indeed veritable knuckledraggers in their attitudes toward women, so too are the men who today govern Afghanistan . . . with American support.

On June 29 BBC Newsnight broadcast Lyse Doucet’s film on Badam Bagh, a prison for women in Kabul. There, hundreds of Afghan women have been jailed because of their “bad character”—for “moral crimes.”

Here, briefly, is the story of one such woman, Sabera, who is sixteen years old.

“I was about to get engaged, and the boy came to ask me himself, before sending his parents. A lady in our neighbourhood saw us, and called the police,” she explains.

She was sentenced to three years but, in an act of mercy, it was shortened to 18 months.

Even the director of the prison, Zarafshana, acknowledges that “[i]f these women were treated with justice, I don’t think fifty percent of them would be in here. They are here because of problems in the family or personal vendettas.”

Many of these women have been interned because they fled their homes to escape physical violence inflicted by their husbands or male blood relatives. In today’s Afghanistan, it is a crime, apparently, to do anything other than just stay home, and take it.

Women in Badam Bagh, which translates to “Almond Garden,” have been locked up for refusing to marry, marrying against the family’s wishes, “attempted adultery,” and “running away.”

“In many cases women run away because they can’t bear the domestic violence and then they are picked up and taken into custody for a long time,” explains Nader Nadery, a commissioner at Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission.

“Running away is not defined in any penal code,” says Mr Nadery. “If there is no provision in law, they refer to Islamic Sharia law and this gives them an open hand.”

Matsura, 19 years old, gave birth to her son in prison.

“I was three months pregnant, and [my husband] said the child wasn’t his and he kicked me out of our house,” she says, cradling her infant son as she perches on the edge of a metal bed in her communal cell.

“My mother lodged a complaint against him but the government locked me up.”

“Every time I think about it, I cry, and I say to myself, ‘What crime have I committed that I should be in prison?'”

Matsura’s son, Izzatullah, which means “God’s Honor,” is one of 40 children imprisoned with their mothers in the Almond Garden.

They sit on tiny plastic chairs watching television in a room filled with stuffed toys, and bright colours.

Prison authorities say children are taken away to a boarding school after the age of five.

It is folly to presume that American violence in Afghanistan is going to end violence against Afghan women. As set forth here and here and here, violence against women in neighboring Pakistan, America’s putative ally in the War on Terra, is pandemic. The subjugation of women in Iraq has actually increased as a result of the American invasion there.

There is also something of a war against women here at home. Though no “Mission Accomplished” man seems to have launched any “Operation Enduring Freedom” to address that scourge.


3 Responses to “My Name Is Luka”

  1. 1 Julia Rain July 2, 2010 at 8:54 pm

    The source article said that the prison director wears a business suit and no headscarf. I wonder how the men who are responsible for writing these ridiculous laws feel about that. It rather surprises me.

    Whenever I hear about female human rights workers in Afghanistan I always wonder how they got to be in that position. Were they just lucky to be born into enlightened families? Because if they started out like most women, beaten and berated by their male relatives before being forcibly married to another abusive, controlling man, it seems unlikely that they would be able to do such a job.

    Couldn’t that poor woman with the baby get a DNA test?

    • 2 bluenred July 2, 2010 at 9:42 pm

      I think DNA tests are a privilege reserved for First-Worlders.

      There are enlightened families in Afghanistan. Before the place started going to hell, in the years post-WWII Kabul was gaining a reputation as “the Paris of the region.” It’s a long and complicated story, how the country went from there to here. Some of it is briefly told in the opening chapters of The Afghan Syndrome, a book written by two former Soviet military officers.

  2. 3 Julia Rain July 3, 2010 at 8:22 pm


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When I Worked

June 2010
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