DU graduate who led protests in Afghanistan uncertain of future

Crystal Bayat says the Taliban have not changed, experience of women painful

Crystal Bayat is a 24-year-old activist who graduated from Delhi University last year.

She is among the several brave women who have openly protested against the Taliban in the face of arms and violence. Currently in Afghanistan, Ms. Bayat was on the way to Kabul airport on Saturday morning. “I don’t feel safe if I am on a video call,” she said over a WhatsApp call to The Hindu.

She is scared to attend calls from India as her phone is “under control”. On Monday morning, she said over a WhatsApp call that she and her family are looking for a safe place. She doesn’t have access to the Internet for more than a few hours daily.

“We have to hide from trouble. I am on the way to leave Kabul as soon as possible. Outside, I can’t talk loudly,” she said.

On August 19, on Afghanistan’s Independence Day, days after the Taliban took over, she was among a few women who protested against the Taliban.

“We chose the Wazir Mohammad Akbar Khan hill to raise the Afghan national flag, where the largest flag was installed. While the Taliban had announced that a decision on the national flag will be made later, their commanders and soldiers did not allow this,” she said. The protesters, she said, gathered at another site but weren’t allowed there as well.

“I didn’t give up due to the verbal threats and airstrikes. They beat up many people. People were being shot at, especially some of the girls who were with me. They broke a young man’s mobile phone… they used violence and coercion. I was scared when I saw that if resist, they would fire at us. Taliban has not changed. They still do not believe in the freedom and demands of the citizens. No one can hold them accountable.”

On things that made her gather the courage to protest, she said, “Restrictions, killings, violence, deprivations and the tyranny of the Taliban forced me to stand up against terrorism and extremism”.

A terrible situation

Sharing her experience, she said it was “bitter and painful” and that she is uncertain of the future of “all women activists, human rights activists, journalists, elites and especially women”.

“How sad are the stories of women who have experienced twenty years of war and bloodshed? Afghanistan is in a terrible situation. The world must hear and act on the voices of Afghan women and youths. No one knows what will happen tomorrow.”

Recalling her childhood, she said her mother — a doctor — helped many women at the time. “I have grown up with the changes and developments post-2001. My mother has extremely painful stories to share. The pain was the same that people are facing today,” she said.

Ms. Bayat’s encounters with the Taliban in the past few days have made her conclude that they talk about supporting women’s rights “but the opposite happens”.

“Their soldiers were staring at our clothes. I really felt harassed and violent but I was sure they wouldn’t beat me in public. I talked with one of their soldiers he couldn’t convince me, there are big deference between the statements and believes. I was afraid of being followed and chased. I was facing with Taliban for the first time was trembling. Their demeanor, mannerisms and speech had taken away peace from my mind [sic],” she said in a message.

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