The Taliban’s religious police, interrogate, mistreat, and harass women in the streets for not wearing a full hijab, women in Kabul said.
The religious police force, which is working under the Taliban’s Ministry of Propagation of Vice and Promotion of Virtue, are looking for excuses to stop, insult or even beat women in public.
A colorful dress, a short skirt, wearing jeans, sitting in the front seat of a taxi, or traveling without a male companion, anything could anger a Taliban fighter to resort of violence against women.
Nazanin, a public university student, said she was beaten by the Taliban for sitting in the front seat of a taxi about two weeks ago in Kabul.
“I was beaten by a lash two times on my back,” she said. “It felt like my bones were broken.”
“I felt numb on my back,” she added.
Nazanin said the Taliban fighters took the taxi driver to the police station.
The Taliban dissolved the Ministry of Women Affairs after they seized power last year, replacing it with the notorious religious police, who now patrol the streets, enforcing rigid restrictions on women in Kabul, and elsewhere in the country.
The religious police have been tough on all Afghans. They encourage and sometimes even force men to grow beards and go to the mosques for congregation prayer, asking people not to listen to the music in their cars or watch movies at home.
But women have borne the brunt of the Taliban restrictions including those enforced by the religious police.
Shabnam, a 23-year-old woman in Kabul, said she doesn’t feel safe walking in the streets anymore because she has heard horrific stories of Taliban mistreating women. She said the Taliban cut her 12-year-old cousin’s hair in public because it wasn’t fully covered by the scarf she wore. Shabnam said the incident happened three weeks ago, and her cousin’s family left Afghanistan soon after that.
The Taliban’s religious police say they make only verbal recommendations to women on what to wear, calling the allegations of abuse as “propaganda.” But the women interviewed for the story said things often escalate and go beyond verbal encouragement, and that the Taliban sometimes use violence and insults to attack women for not wearing the extremist group’s favorite hijab.
Zarmina, 24, said she has been repeatedly warned by the Taliban not to “wear short and bright-color clothes, otherwise I would be flogged.”
“The Taliban have taken away my very basic right, which is the right to choose my own clothes, and this is very painful for me,” she said.
Fazela, a 26-year-old mother of one, said she was eating in public during Ramadan because she was on her period when a Taliban yelled at her “whore! Aren’t you a Muslim?”
“I could not even speak out of fear,” she said.
She said she threw her food in the garbage and left without saying anything. Islamic laws allow women not to fast when they are menstruating.
The religious police sometimes treat men more violently, compared to women. In one such incident recently, a Rukhshana Media reporter witnessed Taliban fighters beating a man for listening to the music and having a tattoo on his hand in Kot-e-Sangi neighborhood of Kabul.
Afghanistan is a Muslim country where women already wore headscarves when they left home before the Taliban takeover of power. But the Taliban’s definition for Hijab is equal to Burqa, a head-to-toe covering unacceptable to most Afghan women.
Rukhshana Media used pseudonym to protect the identity of the women interviewed for the story.