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Bring body back, pleads slain Indian author's family

Kolkata, Sep 6, 2013 (IANS): 17:10 IST
Slain Indian author Sushmita Banerjee. File photo
Slain Indian author Sushmita Banerjee's family was Friday mulling moving the external affairs ministry to ensure that her mortal remains were brought back to Kolkata, her younger brother said here.

Banerjee's kin here say she was "desperate" to return to Afghanistan, and did not heed their advice to stay on in India. They said she wanted to write another book on the lives of Afghan women.

"We had warned her not to go (to Afghanistan). But she was sort of desperate in nature from the outset. We had told her that the Taliban would not let her live in peace as she had written so much about them... but she did not listen to us. She wanted to go back immediately," the author's younger brother Gopal Banerjee said.

Sushmita Banerjee, 49, was dragged out of her home after other members of her family were tied up, and shot dead by suspected Taliban gunmen in Sharan city of Afghanistan's Paktika province Wednesday night.

"She countered us saying the situation in Afghanistan has returned to normal and American soldiers are there," Banerjee said.

Banerjee defied her family to marry Afghan businessman Jaanbaz Khan, and stayed for years with him in Afghanistan. She later came back to India, and in 1998 wrote the bestselling memoir "Kabuliwalar Bangali Bou" (A Kabuliwala's Bengali Wife), offering a vivid description of the suffering of women under the Taliban.

She also described her daring escape from the clutches of militants. The book made her a household name in Bengal.

Banerjee had recently moved back to Afghanistan to live with her husband. According to the BBC, she was known as Sayeda Kamala.

"Sushmita di (di - older sister in Bengali) had said she would like to write about the condition of women there. She wanted to go back for that," the writer's sister-in-law told a local TV channel.

"She wanted to go back as soon as possible, after 18 years away... In January this year, she expressed her desire to go back. She became adamant and said the situation had improved in Afghanistan, although for women it was still bad. Sushmita di had explained how transportation and technology had improved," the writer's sister-in-law said.

"We spoke to her last July 28. There was nothing to indicate she was being threatened or that her life was in danger. Barring one incident in 2000 when a few people had barged into her home, there were no signs (of impending danger). During her stay in Kolkata, bodyguards were placed for her security," Gopal Banerjee said.

According to her brother, the author had called her family after reaching Afghanistan in January this year. She was working in a government hospital as a physician.

Her family in Kolkata is yet to establish contact with the author's family-in-law after her killing.

"I tried contacting her husband's cellphone, but it says it's not in use... I don't understand why. There has been no contact from the in-laws' side. There was no response from her personal number as well," Banerjee said.

Her brother said that no one from his family had been contacted by officials of the central government, either.

"We will move a request to the ministry of external affairs to recover her body and have it sent back to us," Gopal Banerjee said, adding that before leaving India the writer had bought books from Kolkata to distribute to children in her neighbourhood in Sharan.

Banerjee was the subject of the 2003 Bollywood film, "Escape From Taliban", featuring Manisha Koirala. The film described itself as the "story of a woman who dares the Taliban".

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