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Afghan militants target, kill female author, police say

By Chandrika Narayan and Masoud Popalzai, CNN
updated 6:30 AM EDT, Fri September 6, 2013
Sushmita Banerjee at a news conference in 2002, announcing a film based on her life story,
Sushmita Banerjee at a news conference in 2002, announcing a film based on her life story, "Escape from Taliban."
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Sushmita Banerjee was kidnapped and killed in Afghanistan, police say
  • No one has claimed responsibility for her death, but police suspect militants
  • Banerjee wrote "A Kabuliwala's Bengali Wife" about her escape from the Taliban
  • She also was a health worker who helped women Paktika province, police say

(CNN) -- An Indian author whose memoir about her dramatic escape from the Taliban became a Bollywood movie was shot dead by militants in Afghanistan, police said Thursday.

Sushmita Banerjee, also known as Sushmita Bandhopadhya, was killed outside her home in Paktika province, according to Dawlat Khan Zadran, the police chief of eastern Paktika province.

He said suspected Taliban insurgents broke into her house Wednesday night, blindfolded and tied up her husband, and fled with Banerjee.

Her body was found Thursday, dumped outside a madrasa, or religious school, in the outskirts of Sharana city, the provincial capital.

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"She had around 20 bullet holes in her body," Zadran said.

Banerjee gained attention with her 1995 book, "A Kabuliwala's Bengali Wife."

It recounts her story of marrying for love and moving to Afghanistan in 1989 to be with her husband. It traces her life in Afghanistan, her harassment by the Taliban and her eventual journey back to India.

She wrote an article for India's Outlook magazine in 1998, about her life in Afghanistan, which she describes as tolerable until the Taliban crackdown in 1993.

"I remember it was early that year that members of the Taliban came to our house," she wrote in Outlook.

"They had heard of the dispensary I was running from my house. I am not a qualified doctor. But I knew a little about common ailments, and since there was no medical help in the vicinity, I thought I could support myself and keep myself busy by dispensing medicines. The members of the Taliban who called on us were aghast that I, a woman, could be running a business establishment. They ordered me to close down the dispensary and branded me a woman of poor morals.

"They also listed out do's and don'ts. The burkha was a necessity. Listening to the radio or playing a tape recorder was banned. Women were not allowed to go to shops. They were even prohibited from stepping out from their houses unless accompanied by their husbands. All women had to have the names of their husbands tattooed on their left hand. Virtually all interaction between men and women outside the confines of their own homes was banned."

In 2003, her book was made into a Bollywood film, "Escape from Taliban." Bollywood movies are extremely popular in Afghanistan.

Banerjee, 49, had recently moved to Paktika province to live with her husband, Afghan businessman Jaanbaz Khan, police said.

She was a health worker who helped women in an area that had very few female health professionals, police said.

Banerjee could have been targeted for many reasons, including for her book, the movie, her health work, or even the fact that she was an Indian woman, Zadran said.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

In a 2003 interview with rediff.com, a Mumbai-based website, she said she hoped her life story would make people "aware of the conditions women in Afghanistan live under."

"One day," she added, "I am going to go back and free them."

Chandrika Narayan wrote and reported from Atlanta, and Masoud Popalzai reported from Kabul.

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