Struggle for Justice by Deceived Afghan Bride Resonates in India

Sabra Ahmadzai, a 20-year old Afghan woman, finished high school and came to India in November to look for her Indian army husband who deceived, married and abandoned her.
Sabra Ahmadzai, a 20-year old Afghan woman, finished high school and came to India in November to look for her Indian army husband who deceived, married and abandoned her. (Rama Lakshmi - The Washington Post)
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By Rama Lakshmi
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, January 31, 2009

NEW DELHI -- Twenty-year-old Sabra Ahmadzai finished her final high school test in Afghanistan, took out a bank loan and then flew to India on the last day of November. She came to look for an Indian army doctor who she said had deceived, married and then abandoned her in Kabul, making her an object of shame and ridicule.

In India, Ahmadzai's journey has become a rallying point for young women across college campuses who find in her a source of inspiration to question powerful hierarchies of traditional societies. The students in three universities in the capital are trying to set up a "Justice Committee for Sabra" by enlisting eminent lawyers, retired judges, professors and independent activists.

The first thing Ahmadzai did in India was confront her husband in front of his first wife and children. But Ahmadzai did not stop there. She also filed a police complaint and challenged the Indian army, meeting with government officials, women's groups, human rights organizers and student activists. She says her mission is to see her husband, Maj. Chandrashekhar Pant, punished under Indian law prohibiting bigamy.

Pant was stationed at the Indian medical hospital in Kabul and married Ahmadzai two years ago. The ceremony was held 20 days before he returned to India, she said.

He later called Ahmadzai to inform her that he was already married and had two children.

"I had nothing else but anger when I left Kabul. I did not know a single person in India," said Ahmadzai, her close-set eyes darkening as she recalled her troubles.

She sat in the office of the students union of New Delhi's prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University, under a large poster with the words, "Oppression is your privilege, protest is your right."

"But now so many Indians see my fight as theirs," she added. "I want him behind the bars of a jail so that no man ever attempts this again with any other woman in the world. My family trusted him. He not only cheated me, but broke their heart, as well. My family has been ostracized in Kabul because of this shame."

Pant did not respond to multiple text and telephone messages requesting comment and does not have a lawyer representing him publicly.

Ahmadzai carries her nikaah nama, or marriage certificate, and a compact disc of photographs and video clips of her elaborate Kabul wedding, attended by about 700 people. "She is battling the power structures in both Afghanistan and India. She is an inspiration for all of us here," said Sucheta De, 25, a geography student who is a counselor at the student union. "What we women regard as our personal struggle is often a political struggle against dominant social structures."

Ahmadzai worked at the Indian hospital in Kabul as a part-time interpreter for the equivalent of $150 a month, while attending school in the afternoon. She said she had learned Hindi from the popular Bollywood movies in her middle-class home.

Pant, who was her boss, approached her family three times with his marriage proposal, Ahmadzai said. When her mother sent him away because he was not a Muslim, he returned with a priest pledging to convert from Hinduism to Islam, she added.

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