Wednesday, January 9, 2019

From Traitor to Martyr: The Story of Farkhunda Malikzada

March 2015 saw to the brutal death of a young, outspoken teacher and devout Afghani-Muslim woman, Farkhunda Malikzada. She was a woman with hopes of starting a family and had high career aspirations, as she dreamt of becoming a judge one day. Her mother described her as a brave woman who was not afraid of speaking her mind, and it was this bravery and belief in her intellect that got her killed.

In preparation for the Afghan New Year, Farkhunda promised her mother, Bibi Hajera, that she would help prepare for the oncoming celebrations after returning from her Quran recitation class. On her way home, she stopped by the Shah-e Du Shamshira shrine in the centre of Afghanistan's capital, Kabul. What should have been a simple stop for prayer, ended in an altercation with the shrine's caretaker over the selling of religious charms, which Farkhunda believed to be superstitious and un-Islamic. She tried explaining her point of view, which ended up with the caretaker, Zain-ul-Din shouting "this woman is American and she has burned the Quran!"

Fast enough, a crowd began to gather as she was dragged out of the shrine and thrown to the ground and kicked. A mob begins to gather and cries of "kill her!" are shouted as onlookers film the atrocity that is about to occur in front of them, despite her begging not to be filmed. There are repeated references to her being American and that they have sent her. It takes a police gunshot for the crowd to disperse to reveal a crumpled figure on the ground, veil and headscarf gone, hair in disarray and Farkhunda covered in blood. The police are completely and utterly useless, as they simply give up trying to hold the crowd and camera footage shows them watching her being beaten within an inch of her life and run over with a car that drags her down the street.

Among the individuals involved was a teenage boy named Yaqoob. He was helping in his uncle's shop when he joined the mob after they dragged Farkhunda's body passed his doorstep. She was thrown into a riverbed and Yaqoob is caught on camera throwing large rocks at her limp, lifeless body. After she had been beaten, dragged and stoned her body was torched and marked the end of a long and horrific attack.

After the media footage surfaced online many boasted about their role in the attack or made clear their support for the murder of Farkhunda. President Ashraf Ghani ordered an investigation condemning the lynching, however, some officials quickly endorsed her murder - including the Deputy Minister of Information and Culture, Semin Ghazal Hasanzada and police spokesman Hashmat Stanekazai.

But soon after the narrative changed Hasanzada and Stanekazai retracted their statements of support after the ministry of Hajj and Religious Affairs found no evidence that she had burned the Quran. This saw to the sacking of both Hasanzada and Stanekazai. This government announcement of her innocence saw the making of Farkhunda into a martyr. 

Her funeral was an iconic event, attended by over 1,00o people and her coffin was carried to the grave by women only carrying huge significance as this was a country where burials are often male-only events. Women's rights activist Sahra Mosawi proclaimed "my friends and I, we promised each other, we won't let any man touch this coffin... we said, 'Don't touch it. Where were you that day when 150 men attacked Farkhunda? Where were you?" Farkhunda's funeral served as a symbol for unity and support among Afghani women, who then led a protest march a few days later demanding justice for Farkhunda's death.

49 men were charged in connection to her murder. In a televised trial, eleven police officers were sentenced to one year in prison for their failure to intervene, eight civilians were given 16-year terms and four death sentences were given. Two of them were given to the shrine caretaker Zain-ul-Din and Yaqoob. The courts appeals took away these death sentences in a session held behind closed doors and reduced to a twenty-year sentence, and the police officers were acquitted and resumed their jobs as usual.

In remembering Farkhunda, Sahra Mosawi makes a striking point in relation to her murderers "they learned how to wear jeans and look modern but their mentality towards women hasn't changed." Farkhunda's killers were not religious extremists, they were ordinary Afghani citizens. Little has changed since then, and no new laws have been put into place to protect women against violence. 

But, Afghanistan was not always like this. Before the 1979 invasion by Russia, the 20th Century was one of progress for women's rights in Afghanistan. Women became eligible to vote in 1919, a year after women in the UK and before women in the United States. In the 1950s, purdah - gendered separation - was abolished and the 1960s brought in a new constitution which included political participation. Horia Mosadiq, Amnesty International's Afghanistan Researcher, notes before the invasion that she remembers her mother "wearing mini skirts" and taking her to the cinema, her aunt even went to university in the capital. 

The Taliban ruled Afghanistan in the 90s, who aimed to make Afghanistan an Islamic state holding control from 1996-2001. Under their control, women and girls were discriminated against for simply being born a girl. They enforced their version of Sharia law, banning women and girls from education, work, leaving the house without a male chaperone, from showing their skin in public. One of the most worrying being that healthcare was virtually inaccessible for women because they were banned from accessing healthcare delivered by men and as women could not work, they were stuck without this basic need. Women became prisoners confined to their home, without a shred of independence that they had in the 1960s.

So, it hardly seems shocking that Farkhunda met the fate she did when the country has a recent history of abuses against women. In the years that should have been a progression towards women's freedom has taken the country way back beyond the freedom women had in the 1960s. Like the previous post on Asia Bibi, both Farkhunda and Asia's voices were silenced because of their differences in society. Because they did not conform to their societies expectation of women, because they were outspoken women, women with voices and stories to tell. 


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