Nov 2019. Starbucks Delhi.
My latte had just been announced by Barista and I was waiting for Mehreen (Name Changed). Mehreen is an Afghan girl who had come to Delhi with her grandfather for his treatment in one of the super speciality hospitals.
I have been following Afghan Sikhs and their journey which led me to Mehreen. Mehreen was known to an Afghan Sikh girl in Delhi named Arshmeet Kaur whose parents had migrated to India in 1992. Arshmeet was born in India and became friends with Mehreen because Mehreen’s father employed Gulshanas Singh (Arshmeet’s Father) when everything was good in Afghanistan. Arshmeet tells me that they lived in Kabul while their immediate relatives lived in Jalalabad hence Mehreen’s family was the only closed ones who have seen their migration.
The two girls reached Starbucks. Both tall with Afghan & Kaur features graced by smile that one can find only on faces of war torn people. Even though Arshmeet has never been to Afghanistan & has been in touch with Mehreen using social media, they are meeting for second time this year due to ill health of Mehreen’s grandfather.
Mehreen has studied law & aspires to be a part of Jirga one day while Arshdeep is a student in JNU and aspires to change the Indian politics one day. Both ladies are so full of hope and optimism that can come only after pain.
I had my set of questions to ask to girls but I decided to do away with the mundane questionnaire which in a way was good thing to do because I would have never known the valour and bravery of afghan girls.
“I think International Media and Indian media has been portraying us Afghan girls as mere victims for a long time which is not true.” says Mehreen after a sip of cappuccino. Arshmeet nods in agreement.
“Of course there are instances of Taliban treating girls as animals but it hurts me that no one in International media shows the fight back. It is like you are watching a movie and you pick to watch the villain’s scene only.” She says.
“Do you mean there are more girls like Malala of Pakistan in Afghanistan? “I asked her.
“Malala has been made a symbol of standing up for right by Pakistanis and it is true to some extent but she does not represent us afghans. We have our little girls who read out letters for Taliban, we have girls who have formed resistance groups and are armed to deal and protect their families after our brothers and fathers are butchered.”
All this is almost unheard in our media and that surprised me. Arshmeet didn’t look surprised at all. “Mehreen tell me more about how girls are dealing with Taliban and what is world media missing”
“Media makes a hero out of an occasional girl shooting a Taliban fighter but it fails to see that it wasn’t just an out of blue incident of rarest degree. Let me expand on that- We have 1. Resistance Groups of women 2. Teachers 3. NGO’s to deal with trauma that our girls face. 3. Health care awareness by women for women. 4. Girls in media to highlight our plight.”
What are the Resistance groups?
“Resistance groups are group of ladies (any age) who are willing to protect their honour and families by learning to use weapons.” says Mehreen. “Do you mean guns?” I ask.
“Yes guns for guns” she adds. “There is no shortage of weapons and drugs in Afghanistan if you are willing to pay the price and in case of resistance groups, girls are normally given a weapon for 2-4 girls by forces and NDS”
Could you expand on the threats to these groups?
“If someone shoots my father right in front of me & leaves me alive, I’m going back for him. That’s the mindset we are raised in. There is no goal but to avenge the killing and we prepare ourselves by educating ourselves and obviously by learning self defence. Threats to women are not even counted as threats under Taliban, women are considered second class citizens who are a liability and can be used for deal making or as shields. We have understood this over the entire period of turmoil.”
Would you like to expand a little on your memory of Afghan Sikhs?
“Unfortunately Kabul doesn’t have many families of Sikhs after 1992-1994 exodus. Most of them stay in Jalalabad and are often attacked. Arshmeet is as close as I get to know Sikhs”
Towards the end of our meeting, Mehreen told me that Afghanistan will never be conquered as long as the last Afghan girl stands with a Kalashnikov.
Mehreen’s grandfather passed away two days ago due to Covid-19 in Kabul. I had a whatsapp conversation with her that prompted me to write this piece.