'Treated Worse Than Animals': Afghans in Delhi Who Have Survived Taliban Terror
‘Taliban look at a human and see just flesh' Delhi's Afghan retell stories of their horror, anger & desperation.
In the 1980s, they were caught in the crossfire between Soviet forces and the 'mujahideen'; in the 1990s, it was to escape the violent radicalism of the Taliban; in the 2000s and 2010s, it was to escape economic hardship and to avoid becoming collateral damage in the US-led 'war on terror'; and now, in 2021, it is to escape the Taliban yet again.
Over the decades, thousands of Afghan families have made India their home. One such Afghan 'enclave' is in South Delhi’s Hauz Rani area. Locals say nearly 30,000 Afghan families reside in these narrow, dingy lanes.
Some have lived here for years and never want to go back. But others are stranded and struggling, either to return to their families, or to get them out of Afghanistan – in the midst of the civil unrest that has prevailed after the Taliban grabbed power on 15 August 2021.
The Quint spoke to several Afghans living in Hauz Rani and heard them retell stories of their struggles – of horror, anger, desperation and confusion. And how their heart goes out to their fellow citizens and family members who must now live in an Afghanistan under the Taliban.
‘Islamic State Killed Our Father for Educating Three Daughters’
Twenty-year-old Muzhda Qadir moved to Delhi with her mother, brother and two elder sisters in 2019. “Five months after our father was killed, my mother managed to plan our escape from Afghanistan and we came here,” she says.
Muzhda’s father owned a stationery shop in Jalalabad city in Nangarhar province. Four of his children were studying in the university and the youngest, Muzhda, was in school when he was brutally killed by the terror group Islamic State (IS).
Members of IS killed him because he continued to educate his three daughters despite several warnings from the outfit.
“He supported us to study, financially and morally... he hoped we would work as successful professionals one day. He was a progressive man, we felt free in our house, my sisters wore frocks and never had to cover themselves up till the age of 11-12,” says Muzhda.
“Even as we were aware of the harsh reality and the hatred our father received from extremists, inside the house, everything felt different, we would laugh and read books.”Muzhda
When they fled, all their favourite dresses and most cherished books were left behind. Muzhda, however, carried two things with her – a slam book of sorts where her friends had written things about her, and a watch gifted by a close friend.
The family lived comfortably in a haveli in Jalalabad, a house for six people that had nine rooms, four kitchens and a garden. The eldest daughter was on her way to become an MBBS doctor. Now, the five of them live in a cramped two-bedroom apartment.
The elder sisters are enrolled in vocational computer and tailoring courses, which are paid for by the Quran tuition classes they take for the neighbourhood kids.
'Were Only Surviving Under Taliban, There Was No Life'
"With the Taliban (ruling us) there was no life, only the struggle to survive," says 26-year-old Sikander Khan, who fled Afghanistan at the age of 20 and came to Delhi with his wife Shala when the Taliban took over their province of Badakhshan.
While scrubbing the shawarma stand in the small Afghan restaurant where he works, he recalls:
“We were treated like animals, they would beat the life out of anyone who failed to go to the mosque five times a day. We are also the sons of Allah, do we deserve to die because we read the namaz in our house one day?”
His one-year-old daughter Mariam is an Indian citizen, “I have a refugee card and I never wish to go back to that land till the Taliban is there.”
Despite having lived in Delhi for over six years, Sikander does not imagine his daughter’s future in India. “They (locals in the area) don’t like Muslims, we do feel scared, but we look down and do our work without picking any fights,” he says. Sikander hopes to live in Canada where he wishes to start a restaurant of his own some day.
'Taliban Will Kill My Family if I Don't Go Back
"The Taliban won't let my family live, they will all be killed," says thirty-year-old Nakibullah Mazlum, who was a soldier in the Afghan National Army. "They are after everyone who worked in the Army."
Nakibullah came to New Delhi in the last week of July for what he thought was a two-week eye surgery. Back in April, he partially lost his vision in a bomb blast and was sent to Delhi on an official visa for surgery. His travel, surgery cost and stay were all to be paid for and he was hoping to go back soon.
But days after his arrival, the Taliban swept to power. Many in the Afghan army, including Nakib's friends, were killed. Those who could manage, escaped. The circumstances at home, in Afghanistan's Kandahar province, changed dramatically.
Nakib was now stranded in a new city where he did not speak or understand the language, with little money for sustenance, let alone his surgery. Meanwhile, his 10-year-old son, wife, three brothers, two sisters, mother and father were distraught in Afghanistan.
Nakib calls his wife daily just to check if everyone is alive. He then tries to figure out ways to return home. He speaks only Dari, a language not many Pashto speaking Afghans in Hauz Rani understand, but they have been helping him over the last nearly 45 days – finding a place to stay, to eat, and to meet people who can help him get home.
"When I was in Afghanistan I feared for my own life in the army each day. Now I am here, safe, far from home, while my friends are dying and my family lives in fear."
‘Taliban Sent My Friends’ Severed Heads to Their Families'
Hameed Khan’s (23) brother worked for the UK government in Afghanistan, and two of his friends worked as informers for the British. While his brother managed to flee to London, his friends could not.
“They were kidnapped on their way to the airport, their throats slit, and their severed heads were sent to their families.”Hameed Khan
“It has been 45 days since this happened. That was also the last day I spoke to my brother. I have been told that he is safe in London, but one can only hope,” he adds.
Many who worked for different foreign governments or embassies in Afghanistan, have been disappearing. Many are trying to escape.
"My brother left the house and everything in it and ran with his wife and two children; It was the last of our memories,” he says.
Hameed left his home in Kabul in similar fashion 12 years ago, with his parents, leaving many of his favourite things behind. They had to leave in a rush, as his father worked for the army, and discovered that his life was in danger. Even now, he hopes to go back some day to his house.
'I Want To Go Back To Fight the Taliban'
Twenty-five-year-old Babak Fakhri, who works in a tiny Afghan restaurant in a Hauz Rani basement, left his house in Kabul at the age of 13 with his youngest brother, and moved to Delhi to join their father, mother and three Brothers. He has never been to Afghanistan since.
“As soon as the flights are functional, I will take out all my savings to go to Afghanistan and fight against the Taliban. I won’t tell my mother, she feels scared for us because of what my father faced when he was in the Afghan army,” says Babak.
Babak makes regular calls to his friends back home over Whatsapp. He has also been in touch with groups resisting against the Taliban in Panjshir. Asked if going alone in such volatile times scares him, he says:
"My land needs me. We are five brothers, even if one dies, it’s no loss.”
‘Forced To Wear Burqa Since Age 5, Now at 50, I Wear What I Want’
Shakeela Faakhri (52) has protested multiple times over the last month outside the UNHCR building in Delhi, along with hundreds of other Afghan nationals seeking refugee status.
“The Taliban kills women and children, we are always locked up in the houses and they do what they want,” she says.
Shakeela was a young girl when some men broke into her house at midnight and stabbed her aunt.
“People have always lived in that land in fear. I was not allowed to study after the twelfth standard and my entire life was spent with each inch of my body covered,” she says.
“As a child, I could never imagine the freedom I now have.”
Shakeela has been protesting because, despite constant efforts over the last eight years, she never got her refugee card. Over these years, she has been surviving on the rent money sent by tenants living at her house in Kabul.
Many Afghan nationals living in Hauz Rani, that The Quint spoke to, rely on similar rent coming in from their homes, shops and land back in Afghanistan. But now, that income has dried up.
“Since the Taliban has taken over, we have had no money even for food. Without any help, how will we sustain here? All Afghan families that live nearby are struggling to make ends meet,” she says, “The UN must do something for us.”
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