Calcutta, Sept. 8: Susmita Banerjee was killed hours before she was to leave her Afghan village and an unfaithful husband for good, a friend in Calcutta claimed today and furnished Facebook chat records on her mobile as proof.
The slain author’s family said they were in the dark about this and appeared offended by a further claim by the friend — that Susmita, 57, was planning to “marry” a Facebook friend (who has turned out to have a wife).
Shalini Naskar, a Kasba resident who said she had known Susmita and her husband since 2003, told The Telegraph Jaanbaaz Khan was in a relationship with one of his sisters-in-law.
“Susmita told me she was devastated after learning of Jaanbaaz’s relationship with Sultan Biwi, widow of his younger brother Musah who had died two years ago,” said Shalini, who owns a rice mill in Birbhum.
Jaanbaaz could not be reached for comment: his phone was switched off through the day.
Shalini said Susmita would have left her village of Sharana on Thursday and caught a flight out of Kabul on Friday. Suspected Taliban militants murdered her on Wednesday night, hours after she had sent her last Facebook message to Shalini.
“Kal Kabul jabo…. porsu India (Will go to Kabul tomorrow, India the day after),” said the message, sent from an alternative profile opened in the name of Nilanjana Banerjee.
Shalini said the entire Khan family was keen to get Jaanbaaz married to Sultan Biwi, apparently because she was still capable of bearing a child — which left the childless Susmita feeling humiliated.
“Jaanish aami eka ghor e thaki. Sobai Jaanbaaz er biye dite raaji Musah r bou er saathe (I stay alone in a room. Everybody has now agreed to get Jaanbaaz married to Musah’s wife),” Susmita wrote to Shalini, according to chat records on her phone.
“Ami r asbona. Ekhon bolche oke biye korbe (I won’t come back here. Now he’s saying he will marry her),” she wrote in end-August.
Shalini said Susmita planned to “marry” Deepak Kumar, a Haryana resident she had befriended on Facebook two months ago. “She told me she was in love with Deepak and wanted to marry him on September 22 at a temple in Delhi.”
Deepak, 40, is married and has three children. Contacted on his cellphone today, he said: “Age was no bar for us. I had told my family about Susmita.”
Deepak, who claimed he “deals with art”, said the last time he chatted on Facebook with Susmita was Wednesday night. “I am devastated,” he said.
Debolina Banerjee, wife of Susmita’s brother Gopal, dismissed the possibility that Susmita could have remarried. “Now that she is dead, anyone can make such claims and taint the family name. It’s a baseless claim since they (Susmita and Deepak) had never met in person,” she said.
Debolina said the family had got through to Jaanbaaz’s phone in Aghanistan on Saturday. “He was crying on the phone and we couldn’t make out what he was saying. He gave the phone to his brother who confirmed the Taliban’s involvement in the killing.”
Susmita had met Jaanbaaz in Calcutta in 1986 and left with him after their marriage to live in Sharana in 1988. She escaped the Taliban in 1995 and spent the next 17 years in Calcutta before returning to Afghanistan last January.
Her 1998 book Kabuliwalar Bangali Bou (A Kabuliwala’s Bengali Wife) inspired a Bollywood film, Escape from Taliban, starring Manisha Koirala in 2003.