Evening at Zambezi River, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, May 2015
and so does everything around... the situation, the people, the perspective, the needs.... and we too change.... the wise and courageous seek change.. because only change is constant!

Monday, December 28, 2015

230. Meena

When I was in Kabul, I came across www.rawa.org, which I found to be very insightful and trustworthy. RAWA stands for ‘Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan’. This in local language is ‘Jamiat-E-Inqalabi Zanan-E-Afghanistan’. There is a sentence which attracts the attention of readers. It says, “If you are freedom-loving and anti-fundamentalist, you are with RAWA. Support and help us.”
RAWA is working in Afghanistan since 1977 and is one of the oldest Socio-Political Women’s Organization working for Peace, Freedom, Democracy and Women Rights. RAWA was established by Afghan women and is being run by Afghan women. Referring to the RAWA website, I could understand Afghan women’s perspectives, could better know their struggle and also could understand what they want to achieve, what they are dreaming and striving for. The RAWA website can be accessed in seven to eight different languages, which clearly shows that their well-wishers are spread across the world. It is a surprise that in war-zone Afghanistan somebody thought of establishing Women’s Organization. Moreover in an environment where human rights are least respected, this organization is working for 38 years without diluting its founding principles is a miracle to me.
The person who created this exceptional organization is Meena. She is the founder member of RAWA. There is a brief introduction of Meena on RAWA website. However, I was searching for more information regarding Meena. Then I came across a Marathi book on Meena. This book is a translation of Meena: Heroin of Afghanistan by Melody Ermachild Chavias. The English book was published in 2003. The book is translated in Marathi by Shobha Chitre and Dilip Chitre and published by Rajhamsa Prakashana in 2008.
The International Women’s Year celebrated in 1975 (followed by Women’s Decade) was instrumental in generating discourse across the world on status of women and the need to improve women’s participation in all spheres of life. Even in India, Women’s Movement faced the challenge of existing gender stereotypes – this challenge still exists. We will fail to understand the importance of Meena’s and RAWA’s work unless we have a know their context – the situation in Afghanistan.
In July 1973, Daud Khan forcefully removed King Zahir Shah, thus ending his 40 years of rule (1933-73). Daud Khan established Government which was pro-Russia (then USSR). Zahir Shah Government encouraged education of girls and women, even co-education; women were working in different establishments. They were announcing on Radio, they were Air Hostess, they were Telephone operators. For the ease of operations at workplace, these women were not using burqa (veil). However even during those days women’s existence was secondary as the society was governed by Sharia. Meena understood women’s plight at a very young age and in Malalai School she met some wonderful teachers who gave right direction to her inner spark. Meena started thinking independently, rationally and started dreaming about Rights of Women.
Meena was born in Kabul on 27 February 1956. In 1975 she joined Kabul University. The University atmosphere was charged with passionate discussions on different topics including Marx, Islam, Afghan culture and so on. But slowly the atmosphere was spoiled by fundamentalist elements amongst students and professors. In 1976, at the age of 20 she got married with Faij, this marriage was little late compared to the tradition surrounding her. Before accepting marriage proposal, Meena put conditions like she would continue studying even after marriage and Faij will remain loyal to her. It is interesting to note that Faij not only accepted these demands but lived accordingly. He was certainly a different kind of man.
To protest Daud Khan’s pro-Communist approach, Islamic Fundamentalism rose in Afghanistan. People were caught between two conflicting approaches, which were equally harmful for them. During this period of turmoil, Meena decided to establish a Women’s Organization and started meeting women. At this time, Meena was a young girl of 20; newly married; without economic support and without experience in organizing women. However, Meena’s empathy, tenacity and hard work created a group of enthusiastic Afghan women who were ready to struggle for Democracy, Peace and Women’s Rights.
Meena starting meeting different women - with whom she was acquainted – one by one and in 1977 RAWA was established. Both Police (Government) and Fundamentalists treated RAWA as its enemy. So, right from the beginning, ‘Secret for Security’ principle was followed by RAWA. This was necessary because police would have tortured women to get information about RAWA. The hostile police and the fundamentalists – neither were able to destroy RAWA forever. The credit for this strategy goes to vision of Meena.
While reading this book, I was amazed by the work done by Meena and her known and unknown colleagues in RAWA. I kept wondering about the source of the tenacity, the sensitivity and the determination to march forward to achieve the goal – irrespective of the situation. They all were and are indeed amazing women.
Afghanistan’s known history shows that RAWA was the first attempt to organize women to fight for their rights. For these women, the atmosphere was neither congenial outside nor within the home (for most of them) to work through RAWA. They began with small group discussions, helped each other when required, conducted literacy classes – and RAWA progressed from strength to strength through these activities. On many occasions the resolve of RAWA women was tested, and through every such difficulty, their resolve became stronger. Whenever the Government in the country was changed, women paid the worst price.
This is not the place to review history of political situation in Afghanistan. But briefly speaking during the period 1978 to 2001 the head of the Afghan Government were: Daud, Tarakee, Amin, Babrak, Kishtmand, Najibulla, Taliban and Rabbani. Every change in power came with bloodshed, thousand were jailed for no reason and without inquiry, thousands were killed and many more fled away to other countries. With every change, women’s life became more difficult, the restrictions on them kept on increasing, the walls around them grew bigger, and they were more and more suffocated. Life of women in Afghanistan became more difficult with passing time.
During this period RAWA became stronger, its work spread. RAWA was always ready to help women. Women in Afghanistan gathered in front of jail to find out the status of their family members. These women were treated with cruelty. RAWA used to inform the word about these brutalities through pamphlets and distributed them even when the Police was chasing them all the time. RAWA also brought out a monthly called “Payam-E-Zan” – which was first of its kind in the country. RAWA women had always to be worried about police raids on their homes. In such situation how difficult it would be to publish a magazine and distribute it – one who has never faced such situation can only imagine.
Meena was instrumental in bringing out USSR brutalities in Afghanistan. At the same time she foresaw the danger of Fundamentalism and Terrorism. She tried to make the world aware of the problem of Fundamentalism, but we did not listen to her.  
 In 1982, Afghan Government (that was USSR) declared that it would arrest Meena at the first opportunity. It was impossible for Meena to work in Afghanistan. So she crossed border and went to Pakistan where thousands of Afghan migrants were somehow managing to be alive. Many times Meena and her colleagues took risk and crossed the Afghan-Pak border. RAWA colleagues and women stitched clothes to earn livelihood, the provided home and education to orphans, the conducted literacy classes for migrants, the established Malalai hospital and served many sick people.
Even though Meena’s movements were kept secret, on 4 February 1987, Meena disappeared from Quetta (Pakistan). Later RAWA realized that Meena was assassinated. It was a tremendous shock to RAWA, but they continued Meena’s work with a greater determination; realizing that it was their obligation to realize Meena’s dream of Democratic and Peaceful Afghanistan. Unfortunately even at the end of 2015, Afghan women still have a long way to go.
We need to know that Afghan women never had an option of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ government; for decades they have to choose between “worse” and “worst”. It is true that Mujahidin fought against Taliban, but when it comes to women, both Mujahidin and Taliban were equally cruel with women. Even after the New Era of 2001, when Afghan women saw Warlords as part of the existing governance, they knew that their plight and fight was not yet over.
It was necessary for Meena and RAWA to keep a low profile. They had to destroy papers on many occasions fearing police raid. They had to be careful about not keeping any proof about their movement and activities. Whosoever was ruling Afghanistan, they certainly were against Meena and against RAWA, simply because Meena and RAWA fought for Women’s Rights. This is the reason why we had hardly any information about Meena.
After the attack of United States of America on Afghanistan in 2001, Melody Chavias visited Pakistan and Afghanistan; interacted with many colleagues of Meena and then she wrote this book. Generally when we read a biography, we get an almost complete and consistent picture of the life of the heroine/hero of the book. Due to the circumstances in Afghanistan, this book cannot give us the complete picture. However, the glimpses of Meena’s life and work clearly tell us the plight of Afghan women and their courage.

Meena’s life and work and the way RAWA is carrying the torch is very inspiring.
The book is available on Amazon: