Burqa Babes in the Big House: Romeo and Juliet in Kabul

Kareema wants to apologize to her father, whose only concern is himself. He believes that Kareema should have married a suitor who could have supported him, the father-in-law, in his old age.

Kareema is now refusing to marry Firuz in jail unless he pays a dowry. She is that spirited. And yes, they do marry in jail but are still found guilty of the crime of premarital sex. They receive a three-month sentence, but the judge says that Islam believes in the family, and thus he decides that the newly married couple will be better off at home than in jail.

And so we see that the scurrying, silent figures beneath the blue burqas are also brash, canny, high-spirited, and daring. They may be oppressed, but they are also incredibly good natured and realistic. And they know exactly what they are up against. A lawyer advises: “A bad husband is better than no husband.” The women understand and accept this as their lot in life.

Their female-female conversations are frank, spontaneous, unrestrained, assertive, and sharply to the point. Kareema’s mother tells her: “Everyone knows you screwed up.”

Another mother-in-law/daughter-in-law-couple, Zia and Alia (or Aleema), are in for rather mysterious reasons. They fight bitterly. Did they run away together from a dangerously violent home? Did Zia save the younger woman by hiding her from Alia’s murderous family of origin? Did Alia have an affair with Zia’s son—whom she now refuses to marry? Or did Zia try to pimp out Alia? These women say that in their family “people speak with knives.” Alia is clear that if she is ever released from prison, her family will “quietly drown” her.

Then there is Sabera, so young, so pretty, so charming, who dared to fall in love. She does not think this is a crime. Although she has been accused of having had premarital sex, a medical exam in prison proves that she is still a virgin. However, she admits to having engaged in anal sex — something that is quite common in Afghanistan both among men and as a birth control device. For this crime Sabera was sentenced to three years.

Courtesy of Amnesty International and Frontline/PBS, everyone now knows about the “dancing boys” of Afghanistan and about the Taliban and Kandahari penchant for young boys, who are often orphans, always poor boys, who are taught to dress and dance like women and with whom the older, dominant man has both anal and oral sex.  There is no question that sodomy is a “happening” thing in Afghanistan.

Back to the Badum Bagh prison: One woman on camera admits that she finally killed her husband. Naseema is 45 years old and has no regrets. “Men like my husband should all be murdered. He had sex with boys and other women and with a seven year old girl. I did the world some good. But it’s considered a crime. I have no pain or remorse. I’m glad.”

Unbelievably, but comically, the chief female guard says that “women have been given too much freedom.” Another prison guard says: “If they were good women they would not be here. They would be home with their families.”

No, sir. With their fighting spirits, defiance, open-heartedness, and philosophical minds these are very, very good women indeed.