By: Fahim Khairy
Persian poetry has a long history of fighting injustice and discrimination, dating back centuries. From Jalaluddin Rumi Balkhi and Rabia Balkhi to modern poets such as Foroogh Farokhzad, many have raised their voices through poetry to attack injustice. These poets often touched on taboos that no one dared speak of, fearing punishment from kings and other rulers.
Karima Shabrang is a new sword in the battle for justice and equal rights for women in Afghanistan. Shabrang soon came up against people who do not believe women should be equals. Shabrang was born in Baharak in the Badakhshan province. She studied Farsi/Dari literature and poetry at Kabul University. After graduating, she moved back to her village and started to work as a school teacher.
Shabrang was not yet known as an Afghan poet. She never showed her creative work to anyone until her first book hit the market and shocked everyone who read just a few pages. In Baharak village, Shabrang had enjoyed a peaceful life. She had the chance to publish her first poetry book titled Beyond Infamy.
Her work breaks taboos and carries a depth and darkness. As leading Afghan poet and professor Partaw Nadery said, Shabrang writes in pain and blood. In much of her work, Shabrang shows what it is like to be a victim of sexism. She was working as a teacher when her book was first published. She did not realize how people would react to her poetry.
My hair was saved for you
But destiny left it in the hands of a stranger
Who uses it to fuel his own desire’
* * *
Leave the buttons of your shirt open
Allow me to look at your eyes
And a little lower, let me feel the heat
and understand the warmth of the sun in your chest
In Afghan society, women cannot speak of their love desire, not even in poetry. It’s considered criminal, shameful, and dishonorable to do so, but Shabrang courageously broke this taboo. When asked about the message of these lines, she said that “being in the arms of the opposite gender is a need for everyone, including women. This was an empty spot in our society, and I wanted to fill it in and show the feelings and sensations of a woman.”
Soon rumors reached her entire village, and Shabrang became famous. Finally the religious Mullahs got their hands on her book. Day by day, the peaceful and green village that had inspired Shabrang became like a prison for her. She was harassed on the way to school every day and her entire family felt the effects. The Mullahs called her an ”infidel” who wanted to put Afghan women on the wrong path, teaching them to be immoral and shameless.
The harassment escalated until the Mullahs were sending Shabrang death threats. She had no choice but to leave her village and come back to Kabul which she says is a little more modern and safe compared to the remote provinces.
Karima Shabrang is now homesick and homeless. She stays at nights in her brother’s house. During the day, she wanders around Kabul, searching for her future.
Sometimes, I miss myself
My house and the birds that sing in my village
And the stories I used to hear
Now suffering, misery, and I are friends
Mom, oh my dearest mother
Who told you to give birth to such a sad traveler?’
Karima Shabrang is a poetic star that is falling from the sky. Breaking such taboos is not an easy thing to do in Afghanistan. Shabrang risked her life by publishing her poetry, and now she is on the run trying to escape the wrath of the Mullahs.
Those who are interested in getting in touch with Karima Shabrang can reach me at fahim.khairy(at)yahoo.com