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Indian woman NGO worker kidnapped in Afghanistan

Judith's family on Friday expressed hope that India and Afghanistan would act soon to have her released.

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Afghanistan (Representational Image). Image source:
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  • The aid agency also confirmed to IANS that a “staff member of the Aga Khan Foundation” was abducted, but it did not name her
  • Judith’s family on Friday expressed hope that India and Afghanistan would act soon to have her released
  • The latest in a series of terror strikes on Indian interests in Afghanistan was on an Indian consulate on March 2

The Indian embassy in Kabul is in touch with senior Afghan authorities and the government, the sources said, adding that officials in Delhi were also in contact with her family in Kolkata.

They said all efforts are being made by the Afghan authorities to secure her release.

Judith DSouza, kidnapped in Afghanistan. Image Source: timesofindia.indiatimes.com
Judith DSouza, kidnapped in Afghanistan. Image Source: timesofindia.indiatimes.com

The aid agency also confirmed to IANS that a “staff member of the Aga Khan Foundation” was abducted, but it did not name her.

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“An investigation by the authorities has been launched, in conjunction with security officials and various partners. Every effort is being made to secure the safe release of the staff member,” Aga Khan spokesperson Sam Pickens said in an email response.

Meanwhile, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said that she has spoken to D’Souza’s sister.

“I have spoken to the sister of Judith D’Souza. We will spare no efforts to rescue her,” she tweeted.

“She is your sister and India’s daughter. We are doing everything to rescue her. Please take care of your sick father,” Sushma Swaraj added.

Agnes D'Souza the sister of Indian aid worker Judith D'Souza. Image Source: www.arabnews.com
Agnes D’Souza the sister of Indian aid worker Judith D’Souza. Image Source: www.arabnews.com

Judith’s family on Friday expressed hope that India and Afghanistan would act soon to have her released.

“It happened in a different country. The government of that country should take steps. She liked the place as she said there was a lot of work to be done,” Judith’s sister Agnes D’Souza told the media in Kolkata.

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“But if such a thing happens, who would want to go back? I am asking every channel to do their part. The government of India must do something and get my sister back. I want her back,” she added.

Asked about Taliban involvement in the crime, Agnes said: “I don’t know.”

Judith’s family came to know about the development around 1.30 a.m. on Friday from the Indian embassy in Kabul.

This is not the first time that an Indian aid worker has been kidnapped in Afghanistan. Taliban militants have mostly been blamed for the kidnappings.

Many Indian establishments have also been targeted in the past in Afghanistan where New Delhi has pledged and made huge investments to rebuild the war-torn country.

Family of Judith D'Souza. Image Source: Indian Express
Family of Judith D’Souza. Image Source: Indian Express

The latest in a series of terror strikes on Indian interests in Afghanistan was on an Indian consulate on March 2.

The abduction comes as the Indian embassy issued a security alert earlier last month for Indians residing in Afghanistan and travelling to the country.

“All Indians residing and travelling to Afghanistan are advised that the security situation in the country remains highly volatile. Terrorist attacks have taken place in the country against foreigners and are expected to continue. There is also the risk of kidnapping and hostage taking throughout the Afghanistan,” the embassy statement warned. (IANS)

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Afghan Orchestra Flourishes Despite Social Issues

Afghanistan and Pakistan have experienced years of terrorist attacks, including massive casualties on both sides of their long shared border.

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Afghanistan
Negin Khpolwak, leader of the Zohra orchestra, an ensemble of 35 women, practices on a piano at Afghanistan's National Institute of Music, in Kabul, Afghanistan. VOA

The consequences of Afghanistan’s increasingly deadly war are weighing heaviest on the nation’s civilians, with women bearing the brunt of the violence. The Taliban banned music and girls education, and restricted outdoor activities of women when the group was controlling most of Afghanistan.

But violence and social pressures have not deterred members of the country’s nascent orchestra of mostly young girls from using music to “heal wounds” and promote women’s rights in the strictly conservative Muslim society.

The ensemble, known as Zohra, was founded in 2014 as part of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM) in Kabul, where suicide bombings lately have become routine.

Hope and music

Students and trainers are not losing hope and regularly come to the city’s only institute to rehearse and learn new lessons, says Ahmed Naser Sarmast, the director of ANIM and the founder of the orchestra. Zohra is the name of a music goddess in Persian literature, he explained.

The musicologist spoke to VOA while visiting neighboring Pakistan earlier this month with the young ensemble to perform in Islamabad as part of celebrations marking the 99th anniversary of Afghanistan’s Independence Day. Kabul’s embassy in Islamabad organized and arranged for the orchestra’s first visit to Pakistan.

Despite the many challenges in Afghanistan, Sarmast said, student enrollment has consistently grown and more parents are bringing their children to the institute to study music. Around 300 students are studying not only music at the institute but other subjects, including the Quran, he said.

Afghanistan
Members of the Zohra orchestra, an ensemble of 35 women, attend a rehearsal at Afghanistan’s National Institute of Music, in Kabul. VOA

Advances for women

Negin Khpolwak, the orchestra’s first woman conductor, says Afghanistan has made significant advances in terms of promoting women’s rights in the past 17 years. She says there is a need to sustain the momentum irrespective of rising violence.

“We need to stand up to protect those gains and we need to open the doors for other Afghan girls,” Khpolwak said when asked whether deadly attacks around the country are reversing the gains women have made.

But violence alone is not the only challenge for women and girls, especially those who want to study music, she said.

“When you are going in the street with your instrument to the school and they are saying bad words to you and if you are giving a concert in public they are telling the bad words to you. But we are not caring about it,” Khpolwak said.

Afghanistan
Ahmad Naser Sarmast, head of Afghanistan’s National Institute of Music, speaks to members of the Zohra orchestra, an ensemble of 35 women, in Kabul, Afghanistan. VOA

Ethnic groups help each other

Sarmast says that girls and boys in the orchestra come from different Afghan ethnic groups and they help each other when needed.

“It’s hope for the future,” he said.

Ethnic rivalries have been a hallmark of hostilities in Afghanistan and continue to pose a challenge to efforts promoting peace and stability.

“I strongly believe without arts and culture there cannot be security and we are using the soft power of music to make a small contribution to bringing peace and stability in Afghanistan and at the same time using this beautiful, if I can call it a beautiful weapon, to transform our community,” the director said.

Some of the members of the Afghan orchestra were born and brought up in refugee camps in Pakistan, which still hosts around 3 million registered and unregistered Afghan families displaced by years of war, poverty, persecution and drought.

Afghanistan
Members of the Zohra orchestra, an ensemble of 35 women, bring instruments to a class before a rehearsal at Afghanistan’s National Institute of Music, in Kabul, Afghanistan. VOA

“We are using the healing power of music to look after the wounds of the Afghan people as well as the Pakistani people. We are here with the message of peace, brotherhood and freedom,” Sarmast said.

Afghanistan and Pakistan have experienced years of terrorist attacks, including massive casualties on both sides of their long shared border. Bilateral relations are marred by mistrust and suspicion.

Also Read: OrchKids- Bringing Jot to Underprivileged Kids Through Music

The countries blame each other for supporting terrorist attacks. Afghans allege that sanctuaries in Pakistan have enabled Taliban insurgents to sustain and expand their violent acts inside Afghanistan. Pakistan rejects the charges.

The Islamist insurgency controls or is attempting to control nearly half of Afghanistan. (VOA)