Afghan Woman’s Heroic, Fatal Fight For Human Rights

By SUSAN PARKER Special to the Planet
Tuesday August 12, 2003

Daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandmother, capitol punishment abolitionist, gardening activist, Buddhist, private investigator, author and Berkeley resident Melody Ermachild Chavis has written a brief but important book about Meena, the young Afghan woman who founded RAWA, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan. 

Targeted for the adult and young adult market, “Meena, Heroine of Afghanistan,” is an easy-to-read, informative story with a glowing introduction by Alice Walker. 

Chavis, author of 1997’s “Altars in the Street,” a chronicle of her time spent living and raising her family in South Berkeley, begins her Afghan tale in 1969 when 12-year-old Meena is suffering from a near fatal bout of typhoid fever. After miraculously recovering from typhoid, Meena vows that she will use her second chance at life for a purpose “larger than herself.” Islam is a “soft thread in the fabric of life” within Meena’s large and extended clan. Her father, an architect, has two wives who live with him and their ten children in a family compound in Kabul. Although neither mother is educated, they encourage Meena to stay in school even though she is at the prime age when many Afghan girls enter into arranged marriages. 

Chavis chronicles Meena’s high school achievements as well as the larger historic changes happening in Afghanistan during the 1970’s. As the accomplished young woman was preparing to begin her studies at Kabul University, the Soviet Union was building up its political power base within Afghanistan. 

A decisive moment came in 1977, when Meena connected with eleven other women who recognized the need for Afghan’s daughters and mothers to lead the fight against both Soviet and fundamentalist repression. Together, they formed RAWA with the goal of restoring democracy to Afghanistan by restoring the right to vote, which was taken away from Afghan men and women in 1964. They pursued equality and social justice for women and advocated for a secular government, with religious freedom for all. 

Within two years the Soviet-backed political party had carried out assassinations of intellectuals and democrats, and no one was safe. In February 1979 the U.S. Ambassador was kidnapped and murdered and soon two successive Afghan presidents were killed. Soon after the new Afghan regime signed a treaty with the U.S.S.R., Soviet troops invaded in December, and anticommunist Mujahedeen Islamic rebels, launched their war against the Soviet occupiers. Massive anti-Soviet demonstrations took place in Kabul as Meena warned her compatriots that despite Soviet oppression, fundamentalist rule would be worse. 

Her predictions came true and in 1982, along with thousands of other Afghans, she fled to refugee camps along the Pakistani border. Meena and her fellow RAWA expatriates set up schools, workshops, orphanages and a hospital and made repeated dangerous clandestine journeys back to Afghanistan to help those trapped within their homeland.  

Then, on February 4, 1987, at the age of 30, Meena disappeared on a secret operation. Her body was later discovered in a vertical grave inside an abandoned house. 

RAWA continues on with her mission and Meena has become the symbolic martyr of their cause. 

Inspired to work toward world peace by the events of Sept. 11, Chavis discovered that Meena’s story had not been told. She contacted RAWA members, raised the funds necessary to travel to Pakistan and Afghanistan and spent months interviewing the men and women who knew and worked with the slain advocate of secular democracy. Much of her funding came from the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, a national organization that practices socially engaged Buddhism with headquarters in Berkeley. 

Chavis has pledged to donate all author royalties to aid RAWA’s medical and education projects. As Chavis says, “No matter what your thoughts on the war, we should be sending something other than bombs to the Afghan people.” 

For more information, go to www.rawa.org or www.afghanwomensmission.org. 

Black Oak Books will commemorate the terroist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 with a reading by Chavis on Sept. 11, 2003, 1491 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley. 486-0698. For details go to: www.blackoakbooks.com.