What started as an unremarkable Sunday in Afghanistan’s Herat for Asma (name changed), and her husband and daughter, turned into a veritable nightmare as the entire building the family was residing in shook violently sometime before midnight. The powerful series earthquake that killed thousands of people in western Afghanistan, one of the deadliest earthquakes to strike the country in two decades, came just as Asma was trying to put her daughter to sleep.
The moment when catastrophe hit is a blur even after nearly four days since the tragedy occurred. All Asma can recollect is that she, her daughter, and husband ran down fearing they had mere seconds before the world crashed around them. Ever since then they have not gone back into their apartment.
“I cannot even explain how we felt at that moment. It was the most terrifying moment. I ran with my daughter and she slipped as we rushed. It was only later that I realised that my daughter had hurt her leg and head and we required urgent hospital care. But we are scared of going back to our home and we have no medicines or hospitals or money,” said Asma explaining her condition. Locals have informed her that at least five thousand people have died. Herat is no stranger to earthquakes, and Asma remembered over a phone call that she experienced an earthquake last year as well but this year it was a frightening experience.
The earthquake has left thousands of dead and wounded in Herat but Asma’s condition is unique among all of them. She is an Indian from Aligarh and married an Afghan when he was visiting India.
“I dress like Afghan women and cover myself from head to toe in conservative clothing and no one can recognise that I am different from the locals because of my outfit. But I am an Indian and the first thing that came to my mind after the quake was to call my country’s embassy in Kabul. I called the embassy and sought help. They asked me to be patient,” said Asma recollecting her conversation with a diplomat in the Indian “technical team” in Kabul.
Four years ago, Asma married her husband through Islamic ceremonies in India. The family was happy with the marriage as the groom earned well as a translator and had a decent job in the government of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan that functioned with widespread international support starting from 2004. All that changed however, first because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and later with the overthrow of the Afghan establishment by the Taliban on August 15, 2021. Ever since, Asma and her husband have been living in fear of the Taliban.
The earthquake has added a new factor of unpredictability in their lives. “We have been living in a tent like many others in Herat. People are so scared that they are refusing to go back home and many have taken items of daily requirements up on the nearby mountains and are living there as they are scared of the next big earthquake,” said Asma.
The aftermath of the earthquake, and the fear of the Taliban are, however, only two of the many problems facing Asma.
“We have run out of money, and we cannot even explain how we are spending our hours here. I am keen to come back home along with my husband, and my child. But as yet the official papers from the Indian government has not come,” said Asma, explaining the security threat that she faces because of the constant watch of the Taliban against all individuals associated with the previous government.
Powerful earthquakes killed at least 2,000 people in western Afghanistan, a Taliban government spokesman said Sunday. It’s one of the deadliest earthquakes to strike the country in two decades.
“No one wants to take a chance and go back to their home so soon. The tremors are becoming gentler but they are still coming daily. I hope the Government of India will help me and my family and take me back to my parents,” Asma said hoping that she gets to return to her parents with her husband and daughter.
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