Archive for May, 2009

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May 17, 2009

 Women’s Rights Activist Named Afghanistan's Person Of The Year

Women’s Rights Activist Named Afghanistan's Person Of The Year

RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan has named Anarkali Honaryar, a 25-year-old dentist and human rights activist, as its Person of the Year. The annual award goes to an outstanding individual whose contributions to democracy and civil society have had a significant effect on Afghanistan’s effort to rebuild. Honaryar was chosen for the award by a panel of more than 30 Afghan journalists, civil society activists, and human rights advocates.

As a young girl, Anarkali Honaryar dreamed of becoming a pilot and flying to foreign countries.

Growing up in Afghanistan’s northern Baghlan Province, however, Anarkali soon realized that seemingly insurmountable obstacles stood in her way.

Her school years in the 1990s coincided with some of Afghanistan’s most turbulent times in recent history. The country was ravaged by civil war, there was no stable government in Kabul, and many provinces, like Baghlan, were controlled by warlords.

Foreshadowing dark days to come, the hard-line Taliban were advancing rapidly, with one province after another falling under the movement’s restrictive control.

The 25-year-old Anarkali today considers herself lucky that her native Baghlan Province never fell to the Taliban. While girls were banned from schools in Taliban-controlled areas, she enjoyed relative freedom in Baghlan and was able to continue her education.

That isn’t to say that Anarkali and her family did not endure many hardships, however. Despite her educational opportunities, Anarkali came to believe that all doors were closed to her, and that she would never be able to travel beyond her province, since most of the country was ruled by the Taliban.

People in Baghlan lived in constant fear that Taliban militants could invade their province at any moment and deprive them of their most basic rights – from education and free speech to the freedom to watch television or wear their hair the way they wanted.

As members of Afghanistan’s Sikh minority, Anarkali’s family had even more reason to worry.

The hard-line Taliban promoted Sunni Islam in an extreme form that was unforgiving even to followers of other sects of Islam, such as Shi’a, let alone non-Muslims, such as Sikhs or Hindus.

But the great changes that came to Afghanistan brought a reversal of fortune for Anarkali. The Taliban were overthrown in late 2001 and a new government took power in Kabul. Girls returned to school, and women to work.

Anarkali had the impression that life — slowly but steadily — was going back to normal.

“However, many things were still missing,” Anarkali says. She realized that despite all the changes, Afghan women still had a long way to go to win basic human rights.

New Era, New Goals

Having decided that being a pilot wouldn’t be an acceptable job for a woman in Afghanistan’s traditional society, Anarkali pursued her second career choice — becoming a dentist.

She also made the decision not to accept the situation of women in Afghanistan, but to fight for her own rights and those of other Afghan women.

Since graduating from Kabul University four years ago, Anarkali has been working for Afghanistan’s Independent Commission for Human Rights, (ICHR), which has offices in Kabul and throughout the country.

“Women face different kinds of difficulties, such as domestic abuse. Our biggest [cases] are related to domestic violence against women,” Anarkali explained. “Another huge issue in our country is forced marriage. Traditionally, Afghans overspend on weddings and to avoid these expenses, some families exchange their daughters — two families with daughters and sons forcibly marry them off.”

Along with her colleagues, Anarkali meets with women throughout the country with the aim of raising women’s awareness of their rights.

“Afghan women should know they have the right to choose who they marry, to stand up against domestic violence, and to refuse to fall victim to dreadful traditions,” she says.

Many women, she says, overcome their initial hesitation, have begun to come to ICHR offices to seek advice or discuss their problems.

“For example, a woman has become a victim of a forced marriage some five or 10 years ago, and now she has two or three children and is facing problems at home,” Anarkali said. “In such cases we try to reconcile both sides, because the children would suffer if their parents get divorced. But according to Afghan laws, men can divorce their wives, and the law provides such rights for women, too, if they provide four credible bases for divorce. So if reconciliation efforts don’t work, we guide the women to legal offices.”

In addition to women’s causes, Anarkali has become known for advocating the rights of Afghanistan’s religious minorities. Her work in human rights has made Anarkali almost a household name in Kabul, and she frequently appears on television to discuss rights issues. She says that when people recognize her on the street, they stop her to tell her their problems and to seek advice.

Honored And Proud

Upon receiving the Person of the Year award from RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan, Anarkali said she is honored to receive the recognition, and proud of the work performed by the Independent Commission for Human Rights.

She says it will take many years and much more effort before women in Afghanistan will be able to enjoy full equal rights.

And while her dedication to that effort means she no longer imagines herself becoming a pilot, she does have a new dream — that her daughters and nieces will one day live in a society where they can pursue that dream or any other they wish.


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Some Excerpts

“Ahmad Shah Durrani” By Ganda Singh – 1959 Page: 339
Relevant Information:
“Although the Afghan country was populated predominately by Muslims and there were not many Hindus and Sikhs in the villages. The cities and towns had a good sprinkling of them. “The cities and towns” said George Forster who traveled through Afghanistan in 1783 just a decade after the death of Ahmad Shah “are chiefly inhabited by Hindus and Mahometans of Punjab”, “At Qandahar” wrote the same traveler “are established many Hindoo families chiefly of Moultan and the Rajpoot districts who by their industry and mercantile knowledge, have essentially augmented its trade and wealth ….” The extensive range of shops occupied by Hindu traders with ease and contentment expressed in their deportment offers a fair testimony of their enjoying at Qandahar liberty and protection.
In fact while busily engaged in preparing to meet the Marathas in battle, the Shah had it proclaimed (3-31-1760): no one from amongst the men from villayat (Afghanistan) shall exhibitory religious bigotry towards Hindus and muslims of India.
The Shah employed Hindu vakils Anand Ram and Kalraj for his negotiations with the Marathas and appointed Hindu Sukh Jiwan and Kabuli Mall as governors of Kashmir and Lahore respectively.
In addition to liberty and protection of trade in the country, Hindu and Sikh enjoyed full freedom of religious worship and their temples and Gurudwaras were never interfered with. Some of the Hindus and Sikh have lived in Afghanistan for centuries without any apprehension from the Afghan neighbor.
The greatest proof of security these scattered people enjoyed was furnished in 1947 when in the new neighboring country of Pakistan, the Sikhs and Hindus were killed at sight, and men, women and children were subjects to wholesale massacre and inhuman torture, without a single incident of this nature in the whole of Afghanistan.”


The Gordon Creed in Afghanistan (1839 and 1878-79)
London 1984. Pages 126-128
Relevant Information:
“The Hindoos are also the grasping moneylending and banker class in Afghanistan.
Many of Hindoo temples in Afghanistan are partly built in the Mahomedan style.”


http://www.afghan-politics.org/Reference/Loya_Girga/Jirga_abstract/institution_of_jirga.htm (no longer exists)
Relevant Information:
” The year: Oct-1915
The Place: Kabul
Delegates: 450 delegates, including prominent Afghans, government officials, and members of Shura-ee Daulati (the State Council)[*]
Purpose: the Jirga was to decide whether Afghanistan should side with the Axis or the Allies in World War-I.
Details: Although, a majority of the delegates and an overwhelming majority of public opinion supported entry into the war in favor of
Germany and Turkey.
But the Amir decided not to enter the war.
[*] During the reign of Amir Habibullah Khan, there was a council of about 30 prominent officials and elders, whose members were
selected by the King or the Princes.
It is noteworthy to mention that among members of other minority and ethnic group, this Council included an Afghan Hindu by the name of
Dewaan Narenjandas.”

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BBC Interviews Chit-Ram

Chit-Ram is a famous percussionist from Afghanistan who is member of the Afghan Hindu community. Listen to an interview by BBC in Dari (Persian).

Chit Ram - BBC

Chit Ram - BBC

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The capital has a vibrant Afghan community, with characters from poets to gangsters and every subdivision in between

By Reza Mohammadi – guardian.co.uk, Sunday 10 May 2009 15.00 BST

When I first moved to London, I found it intriguing that it was actually possible to speak Farsi there. I stayed in Hyde Park, and around my hotel there were numerous Iranian restaurants. Walking on London’s streets, one could easily find people who spoke Farsi. In the north and west of the city, about 70% of taxi drivers are either Afghan or Iranian. So it didn’t take me long to meet many fellow Afghans, and be introduced to their restaurants, eateries and associations.

In general one is not allowed to drink alcohol in Afghan restaurants. But on the positive side, you can eat as much qabuli rice as you want. Even complicated dishes, such as ashak and mantoo, are not impossible to get hold of.

Over time, I discovered Afghan shops, where you can find poetry books, music, foodstuffs and sweets, even smoked meat. Afghans have a special taste for disorder. Products are categorised and shelved in such a manner that only an Afghan can find. The chaos represents a specific mental order that is inscrutable to outsiders. Later, when I started attending Afghan gatherings, this familiar disorder became even more obvious. Afghans have a liking for being late. If a party or a ceremony starts at 8pm, they arrive at least two hours later.

Afghans very rarely drink alcohol openly in public. But at wedding ceremonies, they leave the wedding hall either one by one or in groups and secretly drink in the safety of their cars, returning to the ceremony with serious airs. It was during one such ceremony that I saw the Afghan poet, Birang. He was the only one to always drink openly, and in that state of perpetual intoxication, was speaking about the past, history and literature.

A few months later, news of his suicide reached me. It was received with accusations in the Afghan community, as his suicide meant that he had died as an unbeliever. Inevitably, the community took his poor body, which had never set foot in a mosque, to a mosque, and prayed for him.

The majority of Afghan funeral ceremonies are male only. Inside the mosque, you’d find in addition to the faithful, leaders of the former communist party of Afghanistan. These are the ones who, despite having spent a lifetime fighting mosques, are now making a show of their Muslim credentials.

When the sermon ends, the attendees gather outside, talking and blocking the street until police disperse them. The crowds divide into separate groups in line with ethnic origins, tribal affiliation or the city of origin. They go back home, to restaurants or coffee shops where they continue discussing politics.

The divisions are both serious and profound, so much so that it is impossible for an Afghan belonging to one group to praise the work of an individual outside it, or to acknowledge a positive deed by an individual in a different group. The others are generally seen from every perspective as useless traitors, or spies. Even poets and filmmakers are categorised in this manner, regardless of the content of their art. On the surface they could be treated with respect, but the suspicion of the other will linger on.

In general, the Afghan community in London is divided into three main groups, the Islamists, the communists and the royalists. These main groups are subdivided; the Islamists are divided into pro-Taliban and anti-Taliban, supporters of the mujahideen and, finally, those who are politically neutral.

The communists are equally divided into the old factions; Khalqi, Parchami and Maoists, and then subdivided into supporters and opponents of Dr Najibullah. The pro-mujahideen group is divided into supporters of the various factions; the Islamic Association, the Islamic Unity and the Islamic Party. Then there are the supporters of regional power-holders such Masoud, Esmael Khan, Akbari, Khalili and even Mohaqeq.

The list of subdivisions are endless. There are regional and tribal groupings; the Pashtuns have their own group, as do the Hazaras, the Tajiks and the Uzbeks. When there’s a nightly event of music or poetry reading the audience reflects the poet or musician’s tribal, regional or party affiliation. Naturally, the number of those who pass through all the filters is small.

And yet, despite divisions and subdivisions, Afghans stand out for their excellent business sense. Their presence is conspicuous, even though the majority of them arrived in England only a decade ago. Many of them own their own shops. In Shepherds Bush, about 70% of the shops are owned by Afghans and nearly all shop owners started by running stalls.

But despite such pleasure and interest in hard work, business and politics, Afghans feel little desire to participate in London’s cultural events. You’d be hard pressed to ask an Afghan for the address of a theatre, or talk about the latest film. Even among the student community, which is fairly large, there is little interest in London’s cultural life.

Some young Afghans have formed a gang known by the abbreviation ABB; Afghan Bad Boys.

When I asked the members why they had organised themselves into a gang, they cited the main reason as the negligence of police in regard to the killing of young Afghans by other gangs. Be this as it may, the gang’s numbers are growing day by day and the youngsters’ way of dressing, manner of speaking and attitude towards each other is evidence of a lost space between the English culture in which they failed to integrate and the culture of their ancestors of which they have only a vague notion. This confusion has resulted in those who are not part of the gang turning to religion; these include Afghan Sikhs and Hindus.

Each one of them strives to appear as the member of the family most loyal to the ancestral faith and traditions. And so, London’s Afghans are even more Afghan than those who live in Afghanistan. The only difference is that their Afghanistan is a frozen memory mixed with their own imagination and nostalgia for a faraway and little-known homeland.

This article was translated by Nushin Arbabzadah


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