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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 47, New Delhi, November 6, 2021

Weep For The Women In Afghanistan | TJS George

Friday 5 November 2021, by T J S George



The greatest cookery advice came from, who else, the Chinese. It said: "Excess marks the amateur; subtlity signals the master chef. No ingredient must yield to another. Each should stand out proud and glorious."

Distilled wisdom, that’s what this is. Food cooked on this principle can only be divine. The validity of the wisdom extends beyond the kitchen. All human activity is subject to the dictum, "subtlity signals the master." When that ingredient goes missing, any human activity tends to become gross. It’s like charity donations: Those made with public fanfare are a world apart from those made silently.

This is a game into which ideologically driven teams jump with zeal. Pakistani cricketer Younis recently praised team player Mohammed Rizwan for performing namaz when surrounded by Hindus. What a petty mind. As petty as Imran Khan’s. This cricketer rose to the Prime Ministership of Pakistan, but his mind has remained piffling, spiteful. He described India-Pakistan matches as jihad. These are men who can see nothing without the communal spectacles they wear. They are a shame even to their religion which has a nobler history than they care to admit.

Originally jihad was a word that denoted an individual’s effort for spiritual self-perfection. Later it began to be interpreted as a spiritual struggle for propagation and defence of Islam. Soon enough that began to be mean a holy war for spreading religion.

To the leaders who communalise everything, it was the start of a new kind of game. To the victims it was something else. Consider the fate of women in Afghanistan. This is a country usually described as the worst place for women. The ruling Taliban made it worse. In 1996 it decreed that all women were banned from employment. Its declared aim was to create "a secure environment where the chasteness and dignity of women may once again be sacrosanct. " What followed was a life in purdah for women based on the Pashtunwali beliefs. One of history’s great ironies.

The Taliban belief that "the face of a woman is a source of corruption" led to women having to wear the burqa at all times in public. Women were not allowed to be treated by male doctors unless accompanied by a male chaperone. They faced public flogging and execution for violations of Taliban laws. Amnesty International reported that 80 percent of Afghan marriages were forced.

Other rules introduced for women told their own tale. Women should not wear high-heeled shoes as no man should hear a woman’s footsteps lest it excites him; women should not speak loudly as no stranger should hear a woman’s voice; all ground and first-floor residential windows should be painted over or screened to prevent women from being visible from the street; displaying pictures of females in newspapers, books, shops or homes was banned; women’s presence in radio television or at public gatherings of any kind was banned. In Kabul’s largest state-run orphanage, the female staff was dismissed and the 400 girls living in the institution were locked inside with no scope for recreation. Bus services were segregated to prevent men and women travelling in the same vehicle. In 1998 a researcher who travelled to Kabul said it had become a city of beggars filled with "women who had once been teachers and nurses, now moving in the streets like ghosts under their enveloping burqas, selling every possession and begging so that they can feed their children." Mullah Razzaq, Governor of Herat, issued orders prohibiting women from passing by his office "for fear of their distracting nature."

The psychology displayed by this Governor says it all. If men are distracted by women, it’s the women’s fault. If a man attacks a woman, it’s the woman’s fault. A 1998 survey found that 97 percent of women showed signs of serious depression while 71 percent reported a decline in their physical well-being. Taliban chiefs themselves must have understood their hypocrisy. A leader of the new Taliban regime in Kabul actually called upon women to join the Government. But the ban on the country’s beauty salons remained. Cosmetics such as nail-polish and make-up remained prohibited. Place names that included the word "women" were modified. Women were of course banned from participating in sports or entering a sports club. In 1996 a woman had the tip of her thumb cut off for wearing nail varnish.

Did the Chinese say, excess marks the amateur? They will be lucky if the Taliban does not take over their country. If they ever do, the Chinese will learn that there is no such thing as excess.

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