The streets of Kabul are alive with the chants of “bread, work, freedom” from the throats of protesting women. With each cry of this slogan, the number of soldiers supporting the self-sustaining army dwindles, leaving the fighters lonelier amidst the monsters of the era. Amidst this chaos, Farkhunda stands without the support of her family but with her friends by her side, determined to break down the walls of her opponents. Her words are filled with an unshed world of pain, yet her voice remains strong as she courageously utters them one after the other, amidst the cries that have long been suppressed by the Taliban and the people. Her tenacity and zeal encourage others to join the struggle for a brighter tomorrow, as they all unite to oppose the repressive regime.
Farkhunda (pseudonym) stands among the protesting women in Kabul, bravely advocating for their right to education and work. Her family has kicked her out for speaking out for what she believes in, but she will not be quiet. Before the Taliban’s takeover of the country, Farkhunda was a student at one of the universities in the capital, tirelessly working towards achieving her dreams. With her knowledge and abilities, she hoped to contribute to self-sufficiency and constructive social change. However, the Taliban’s oppressive regime has shattered her dreams and those of countless other women. Despite this, Farkhunda remains determined to survive in the sorrowful atmosphere of this land, where hope seems all but lost. She fights for a better tomorrow despite extreme agony and shows no sign of giving up.
Farkhunda’s spirit is broken, but her eyes show deep sympathy for the shattered souls of the girls in her country. Their eyes reflect the story of every woman’s misery, and Farkhunda knows she must stand up for their rights. She raises her voice against the gunmen who have condemned all women to house arrest. It is a terrifying prospect, but the thought of all the girls suffering in silence spurs her on. She will not allow them to suffer alone.
Farkhunda’s powerful voice echoes through the streets of Kabul during the early days of her protests. Along with some friends, she starts her first protest in the Karte Char area of Kabul province. But as they confront Taliban militants, they are detained and imprisoned for several hours. This is the first of many bitter and unforgettable experiences of imprisonment for Farkhunda. The images of those prison moments never leave her mind and continue to haunt her as nightmares.
Farkhunda witnessed Taliban militants brutally beating several journalists right in front of her eyes. The militants then turned their attention to the female protesters, repeatedly taunting them by saying, “You are American leftovers, and this treatment is what you deserve.” As she watched the horrific scene, she felt her hands and feet turn cold and numb, fearing that she would be the next one to be whipped after the journalists. For nearly five hours, she was consumed by fear and horror that was indescribable. She recognized she and the other girls were up against a bunch that had no mercy for women at that point.
Five hours of screams and moans had taken their toll on Farkhunda as she stood witness to the brutal beating of journalists by Taliban militants. It was a place she had feared being whipped herself, and as she was finally released, she went home with a broken heart and a deep sense of fear. Spending time alone, she questioned her decision to join women’s protests against her family’s wishes. But after a few weeks, Farkhunda remained committed to her friends and returned to the streets of Kabul, even stronger than before. Her voice rose in defiance, chanting “work, bread, freedom,” and once again, the silent streets of Kabul were transformed into a space of movement and activism.
Farkhunda and her companions face not only insults and humiliation from Taliban members but also from fellow men and women, despite risking their safety for the cause. Farkhunda explains, “The Taliban used Electric Shock Baton to beat us. Men and women not only fail to support us but also hold a grudge against us, branding us as wicked women who take to the streets.” These words hit Farkhunda like a ton of bricks, causing her already weary spirit to grow even more exhausted, as they act as salt on her wounds instead of a remedy.
As the people’s cruel insults penetrate her ears, Farkhunda is reminded of the most painful memory of her life. She remains silent for a moment, her heart heavy with despair caused by the cruelty of fate. “It’s always uncertain whether we’ll return home safely after every protest,” she shares with a heavy voice. “And yet, despite the danger, we’re still insulted and humiliated by the same people. It’s a behavior that inflicts even more pain on our already wounded spirits.”
As Farkhunda recalls her most painful memories, she shares with me one of the worst. After the Taliban violently broke up a women’s protest in Kabul, she and several other girls sought refuge in a corner to avoid their attackers. Desperately, she begged the men nearby to help them find a safer place to wait until the situation calmed down. However, the men heartlessly refused her request, leaving Farkhunda and the other girls to fend for themselves in a dangerous environment.
The streets of Kabul, once filled with laughter and joy from Farkhunda’s university days spent with her friends, transformed into a nightmare. The same paths where she once envisioned equations to achieve her dreams, now became a battlefield between her and the city’s tyrants. The terror, fear, and detention that she and her friends endured by the Taliban had now become etched in every corner of these streets. She no longer had the desire to walk these roads, as every turn reminded her of the horrors she had faced.
For Farkhunda, the only refuge from the fearsome world beyond the house is her family, particularly her mother’s warm embrace. However, when she joined a protest with her friends in the Pul-e Surkh area of Kabul, demanding that girls’ schools be reopened and women’s right to work be upheld, her family, including her father, cautioned her that she would be barred from entering the house if she joined protests again. Despite the warning, Farkhunda pledged to her friends that she would continue to protest and convinced herself that her father would not banish her from home.
Unaware of the consequences of ignoring her father’s warning, Farkhunda participates in another protest, risking her separation from her mother’s loving embrace. When she gets home, she is met with a heartbreaking sight. Her father has gathered her belongings and barred her from entering the house. “We have kicked you out, and if you face any danger, you will put us in danger too. Go and survive with whoever you go to protests with,” her family tells her, leaving Farkhunda shattered and alone.
After enduring numerous difficulties, insults, humiliations, and beatings, this scene is the most tragic one she has faced yet. Despite the outside world being a terrifying place, being beside her family is the only place where she can forget all her hardships. However, her father, like many men in the city, suddenly disowns her, leaving her to face the world’s horrors alone.
Following her father’s decision, Farkhunda wanders the streets of Kabul searching for a place to stay. However, she finds no one willing to welcome a girl who has been expelled from her family. After spending several nights at her friends’ house, she coordinates with them to rent a room together and live collectively. Now living away from her family, Farkhunda spends her days in a room that lacks the warmth and intimacy of her parents. Despite this, she persists in raising her voice to demand her rights and those of her peers.