Twenty-year-old Adeeba Qayoumi watched in horror, just like the rest of the world, as her home country Afghanistan fell into chaos on August 15. The Taliban seized capital city Kabul within hours of the US troops retreating and the government falling.
What followed was a sickening sight of civilians thronging the airport, in a bid to fly away to safety — somewhere, anywhere — far, far away from the place they once called home. While some were successful, others weren’t.
Qayoumi watched the news from her temporary residence here in India — in New Delhi to be precise. Two days later, she found herself in the Embassy of Afghanistan, looking to gather more information on everything that had been unfurling in her country.
“Some people there suggested I do something about it and start an online petition,” she said.
By August 17, her petition was ready; she sought the help of governments of the world to “grant immediate asylum to Afghan women and kids” who are fleeing the Taliban. It garnered a momentous response on Change.org. “Every human being has some rights. My family and I have always raised our voices [against injustice], and stood with people. That is why I feel strongly about it,” she said.
When indianexpress.com met her on a sultry August afternoon, Qayoumi carried herself with a certain self-assuredness. In the 20 years that she has been on this planet, she has seen death and destruction closely, but that has not deterred her. If anything, it has bolstered her will to fight the good battle.
Her petition states that the Taliban killed her cousin Farishta in September 2020. “Her crime was that she spoke up for the right to education and other liberties.”
Qayoumi’s mother was threatened, too. “Growing up, I had a lot of Taliban influence in my life. I was the top student in my school and university. My mother was a civil rights activist, and I was also active in Afghanistan. But we had to leave because of the way the Taliban had begun to treat us.”
Her mother, who worked on gender issues in the country, was threatened with letters and warnings. “The letter said she should leave the country with her children, otherwise she would be killed; her children as well. My mother was not afraid for her life, she was afraid about ours.”
The family left everything and applied for a visa to India. They arrived in New Delhi in December 2019 to “continue with [their] life”, and are currently registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as asylum seekers awaiting refugee status. Vetted through the process of several interviews, an asylum seeker may or may not be granted a home in India.
Qayoumi knows that; she is also aware that India has its own share of problems. “It is over-populated. We are not in possession of any valid identity either, which will help us with jobs.” She smiled ruefully and said she is applying for asylum in other countries, too.
Qayoumi works at a clinic near her house, and has a big family with many siblings. “I have three sisters, two brothers.” While her immediate family is here with her, one of her sisters, and brother-in-law, is stuck in Afghanistan. “We are worried about them,” she expressed, adding that while she doesn’t feel any kind of regret for never being able to return to her country again, she feels “sorrowful” about the situation there.
“I feel disappointed at how my country is suffering; that it is going through this crisis. It is such a bad feeling to see that you are landless, your country is without a government, [being run by] a handful of people who are akin to animals.”
Qayoumi has spent many restless nights thinking about the people she saw on TV, trying their best to escape the Taliban, strapping themselves to airplanes. She tensed up while talking about it. “I felt bad, really bad. I cannot explain.”
She, however, encouraged Afghans, mainly the women, to “stay powerful, and never give in to [the pressures of] the Taliban”. “They (the Afghan women) are all heroes. They will be helped by some people, some government — maybe the United Nations. I know international communities will help them; we are also with them,” Qayoumi remained optimistic.
She wants to galvanize the masses into raising their voices, because while one person’s cry may go unanswered, several cries may force powerful people to take notice.
“Don’t accept the Taliban government,” Qayoumi urged India and other countries. She beseeched them to grant asylum to at least the women and children.
When asked if she had any message for the Taliban, Qayoumi hunched forward and declared: “I hate [them] the most. [They] are weak, and [they] will never win. We will all collectively raise our voices [against them]. [They] must not ever think [they] will get accepted by governments… I am certain [they] will lose this power.”