‘Hello ma’am, hope you are safe. I pray to God to protect you, your family and friends from Covid 19…’ was her last message dated April 30,2021 on Facebook Messenger when the devastating second wave of the coronavirus was ravaging the country.
It was a touching message fro Sahar, one of my old students, a post graduate student in Economics from Afghanistan. I remember Sahar as a simple girl with a pleasant demeanor. Though her fundamentals in Economics were not strong, she lacked proficiency in language, she overcame challenges with her dedication and sincerity and managed a second division. After completing her education, Sahar returned to her homeland. Through my occasional interaction with her on social media, I learnt that she was decently placed in a government job in Kabul.
Sahar was one of the few Afghan students studying in my college. In fact, it has been not been long since Afghan girls have started coming to Chandigarh for higher education. Recalling my initial years as a lecturer in 80s; there were many foreign students from Fiji, Mauritius, Iran and also plenty of African students from Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa studying in our college. The African girls would stand out with their distinct physique and looks. I can’t forget how frail and pygmy I looked, in my early twenties, in front of those girls with athletic built. Over the past few years, the demography of international students has changed altogether, none from Africa but now the foreign students are mostly from SAARC nations especially Nepal, Bhutan and also Afghanistan. The Afghan girls look distinctive mainly because of their attire, a scarf fully covering their head and a loose garment over their dress.
Coming back to Sahar’s heartwarming message, I happened to read the text a couple of days later on 2 May when I checked messenger, which I seldom do. I responded immediately, thanked her for the good wishes and at the same time warned her of the notorious new strain of the virus. But there was no response. Suspecting something amiss, anxiously I checked her Facebook page but found her social media account deleted. (It occurred around the time when withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan began)
I had advised Sahar to beware of the virus but little did I know that there was a bigger danger, the threat of Taliban looming large over Afghanistan. Ever since the American troops started withdrawing from Afghanistan, Taliban has been seizing control over many parts of the country unleashing a reign of terror . And now the barbaric fundamentalist forces are in control of the country.
I pray for peace in the land of Kabuliwala, a country which has a special place in my heart ever since I read Rabindranath Tagore’ iconic short story in my childhood. My heart goes out to Sahar, and all girls and women in Afghanistan whose safety and rights are at stake. I wish their hard won rights and limited freedom gained over the past two decades is not snatched away. I sincerely hope that notable improvement in women’s education, job opportunities and civil liberties is not eroded. With prayers on my lips for the well-being of all the Sahars of Afghanistan, I sign off.
(Published in The Tribune as MIDDLE on 18 August 2021)