Poets Against War-Winter Newsletter 2006

In this issue:

William O'Daly: A Winter Sun: Writing Against Torture
Part I: The State of Torture
Part II: Speaking Freely: Poetry, Torture, and Truth
Fady Joudah: The Name of the Place
Gary Lawless: In Memoriam, Nadia Anjuman
Majid Naficy: My Poem has the Scent of Nadia
Sam Hamill Director of Poets Against War

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In Memoriam, Nadia Anjuman

by Gary Lawless

Afghan poet Nadia Anjuman, 25, has died from a beating. In researching across the internet, gathering facts from the various articles about her death, I have found a number of variations on the basic story. I will present here a summary of the story, including the variations, but I will admit at the outset that I am several thousand miles, several languages and a number of cultures removed from the basic true story.

Nadia Anjuman, 25, a poet and journalist living in the city of Herat, Afghanistan, died from injuries to her head after being beaten by her husband. She died on  either Nov. 4 or Nov. 6, in either her home or the hospital. Her husband and mother were detained. After being arrested and accused her husband admitted striking her, but no charges were immediately filed. The family did not allow a post mortem, so the exact cause of death cannot be known, She leaves behind a 6 month old child. (Most sources said a girl, but some said a boy. This fact is important, considering the family now left to raise the child.)

Nadia Anjuman, born in 1980, was a poet and journalist who risked imprisonment, torture or death to study literature and write poetry in Afganistan during the reign of the Taliban. She was one of a group of women known as the Sewing Circles of Herat, women who risked their lives to study and create during the Taliban era, gathering under the guise of sewing lessons at the Golden Needle Sewing School, where they were taught literature by a professor from the local university. This remarkable group of women has been chronicled in Christina Lamb's book," The Sewing Circles of Herat", and Christina Lamb has written a piece for the Times of London called "woman poet slain for her verse" (see reference at end).

After the Taliban fell Nadia went to Herat University, and published her first book  Gul e dodi  "Dark Flower" or  "Dark Red Flower" in 2005. The book has been especially popular among poets in Herat, and has reached enthusiastic audiences in Afganistan and Iran. Her poems speak of love, emotion, religion, and allude to the hardships still facing the women of Afganistan. In one of her ghazals she says: " I am caged in this corner, full of melancholy and sorrow" she goes on to say "my wings are closed and I cannot fly" and ends the poem saying "I am an Afghan woman, and must wail."

Friends were quoted as saying that her family was upset, believing that the publication of poetry about love and beauty by a woman had brought shame on them.

 Her husband, Farid Ahmad Majid Mia, 29 and also a graduate of the literature program, confessed to hitting her during an argument, but not to killing her. Speaking from prison, he has said: "I have not killed Naia. How could I kill someone I loved. We had a small argument, and I only slapped her on the face once. She went to another room and when she returned she told me she had swallowed poison. She said she had forgiven me for slapping her and pleaded "Don't tell anyone I have swallowed poison. Tell them I died from a heart attack.""

The authorities are skeptical, saying that one of the reasons they suspect the husband is that he did not take her to the hospital until four hours after hitting her, and, with no post mortem, there is no way of proving the cause of her death.

More recently, police officers at the jail have said that her husband was taken to the hospital on November 11 after trying to commit suicide by "injecting" (possibly ingesting?) kerosene from the oil lamp in his cell. Doctors also said that he had been on a hunger strike.

Thousands attended her funeral. One student at Kabul University said "Students everywhere are so upset over this. She was such a prominent poet in Afghanistan ." Nahid Bagi, a close friend from Herat University, said she was a great poet and intellectual but, like so many Afghan women, she had to follow orders from her husband."

United Nations spokesman Adrian Edwards called her death "tragic and a great loss to Afghanistan ", adding that "violence against women remains dramatic in Afghanistan, in its intensity and its pervasiveness. It needs to be investigated, and anyone found responsible needs to be dealt with in a proper court of law." Recently elected Afghan woman legislator Fauzia Gailani said " In Islam no one has the right to hit their wife. We hope the government will take action and stop crimes like this."

Afghan human rights groups condemned the death of Nadia Anjuman as evidence that the government of President Hamid Karzai has failed to address the issue of violence against women. Afghanistan's new constitution guarantees equal rights for women, but the continuing power of American-backed warlords, whose repressive views are similar to the Taliban's, have left women with few opportunities for equal rights, or protection from violence and death.

Nadia Anjuman is dead. Another voice lost, but her poems will live on, in the hearts of the women of Afghanistan, and will reach out to the rest of the world.


To Read Christina Lamb's article "Woman poet slain for her verse" www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2089-1869842,00.html

To reach a tribute site for Nadja Anjuman:


To donate money to help Afghan women teach other Afghan women and girls to read and write: www.femaid.org/TEACH.html

and to learn more about the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan go to:


Gary Lawless is the co-owner of Gulf of Maine bookstore in Brunswick, Maine, and is the publisher of Blackberry Books. He and his partner Beth Leonard live as caretakers at Chimney farm, the Maine home of writers Henry Beston and Elizabeth Coatsworth.

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