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24-year-old Afghan, a Delhi graduate, is behind the Kabul women protests against Taliban

Crystal Bayat, who studied her BA and MA in Delhi, has been using WhatsApp to reach women and encourage them to protest and demand their democratic rights from the Taliban.

Women protest in Kabul after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan | Crystal Bayat
Women protest in Kabul after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan | Crystal Bayat

New Delhi: At least two protests by women in Kabul, albeit small, have taken place in the five days since Afghanistan fell to the Taliban.

On 17 August, four women protested on the streets of Kabul, while seven women staged a protest the following day at the city’s Wazi Akbar Khan area to mark Afghan’s Independence Day.

Both protests took place in the week a video of a Taliban commander breaking out into a laugh on a question about women’s rights went viral.

Women’s rights and their advancement in Afghanistan has been a key concern as the Taliban rapidly took control of the country. Following the fall of Kabul, reports emerged of women being ordered back home from their government offices. Those who were out of the country, reached family asking them to conceal or destroy evidence of their education.

The Taliban on their part, has claimed it will allow women to carry on with their jobs as long as it is within the norms of the Islamic law.

Amid the fear, 24-year-old Crystal Bayat, a political activist, has been encouraging women to raise their voices demanding their democratic rights.

“If we let the Taliban win on this, then whatever progress women have made in the last 20 years will come undone. Women need to be made a part of the economic, administrative and political process,” she told ThePrint in a phone call from Kabul.

She added that the women of Afghanistan are ready to abide by the rule of wearing a burqa, but the Taliban needs to meet this compromise halfway.

Also read: Will not hide, say Afghan women as Kabul falls, burqa shops get busy, but worry about education

‘We have to do this for our sisters’

Bayat has a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the Daulat Ram College, Delhi University, and a master’s degree from United Nations Institute in Delhi. Bayat’s mother is a doctor while her father works with the interior ministry of the Afghanistan government.  She returned to the country in 2019.

“When we first decided to protest in Kabul, it took a lot of courage to stand in front of armed Taliban men, but we had to do it for our sisters,” Bayat said.

A Taliban fighter speaks to Crystal Bayat during a protest in Kabul, Afghanistan | Crystal Bayat

Bayat said she has been using WhatsApp to mobilise and encourage women. But despite her efforts and reaching out to hundreds, just a handful have been showing up.

At the Independence Day protest, there were nearly 1,500 men who participated but just seven women.

“Women not only fear the Sharia law, but they also fear for their lives.”

During this protest, the Taliban threatened Bayat several times and told her that women raising their voices was considered ‘haram‘ (forbidden) in Islam, she told ThePrint.

“There is a threat to my life … I have been getting calls from people claiming to be from the Taliban all day. They keep telling me to back down, to stop. Even at the protest, when I was sloganeering, I was shamed for raising my voice. I was told it is haram for women to raise their voice.”

Due to the number of threats to her life, Bayat said she has now moved houses. She said several shops in Kabul were raided and vandalised by the Taliban after they took control of the city. “When we got to know that Kabul had fallen, we immediately went to our homes. When business owners went back to their shops, they were completely empty and broken,” she said, adding salons had been vandalised and posters of women damaged.

“International media and organisations need to focus on the demands of women of Afghanistan or we will lose our rights, and will be restricted to the four walls of our homes. There will be no life, no freedom left,” she added.

Mahmood Alikhil, a former Afghan government official who has been helping Bayat, also spoke to ThePrint and said the Taliban broke their phones when they tried to record videos of their agitation at the Wazi Akbar Khan location.

“The Taliban came and broke our phone. They opened fire at our protest rally … Women in Afghanistan have been getting educated and finding themselves jobs in universities, government offices and even doing their own businesses. If the Taliban impose their extremist laws, all of that will stop. We don’t want that to happen,” he said.

This report has been updated to correct Crystal Bayat’s name, earlier incorrectly spelt as Barat. The error is regretted.

(Edited by Manasa Mohan)

Also read: Afghan women and minorities must fight the Taliban or give in. They have no place to hide