e did everything it took to woo me. I didn’t love him instantly because he was
much older than me,” said Sabra
Ahmadzai, sitting in a busy café in New
Ahmadzai was 18 when she met Indian
army Major Chandrashekar Pant (who was then 38). He was
a doctor at the Indira Gandhi Indian medical mission in
Kabul, where she was a Hindi translator.
Pant was determined to marry her, going to Ahmadzai’s
father thrice with marriage proposals before the family gave
in to his request. His father was initially skeptical of her marrying a Hindu but agreed when Pant opted to convert into
“He changed his name to Himmat Khan, began praying at
mosques, and even got circumcised to convince my family,”
In December 2006, the two took their wedding vows in
front of 500 people and moved into a rented room in Kabul.
Twenty days into the marriage, Pant told her he was called to
India on work and that he would return soon with his parents
to Afghanistan. Ahmadzai waited for months, until one day
when she received a call from Pant.
‘You are young and very pretty Sabra, marry someone else. I
have a wife and two children here,’ he said.
Shattered, but unable to do anything, Ahmadzai continued
to pretend everything was fine.
“I was dying from within, but I couldn’t vent it. My parents
matter the most to me and I was not sure if they could have
swallowed the news without breaking down,” she says.
After two years of silent lament, she decided to trace the
major. During that time, her community was also not exactly
polite to the single bride.
“Things were turning sour for me. Relatives and neighbors
pestered me about my foreigner husband. I tried to avoid the
sordid remarks by not attending family weddings and functions but I couldn’t have buried the truth for long,” she says.
Her mother, who works in the Kabul police force, was
diagnosed with kidney stones and needed comprehensive
treatment. Ahmadzai suggested they go to India for the
treatment. She had finished school by then.
The family took a bank loan and Ahmadzai and her mother set out for New Delhi in November 2008. When her
mother suggested they go to her husband’s house in
Pithorgarh, Uttarakhand, Ahmadzai could no longer hide
the truth. Ahmadzai and her mother then traveled to
Pithoragarh with a stack of wedding photographs, videos
and the marriage certificate.
“The major was thrown out of his wits. His wife and parents were baffled to see us. They understood my woes but
that was it. His wife pleaded with us to leave, saying she
would forgive her husband for the sake of her children,” she
Ahmadzai was not looking for revenge.
“I simply asked him to adopt me as a family member so that
all of us could live under the same roof. And if that was not
possible, I wanted him to come with me to Afghanistan and
give me a divorce in front of my relatives and clergy. But he
offered money instead,” says Ahmadzai.
How much would it cost him to fly to Kabul and back, she
She then approached the local police to register a case of
bigamy against Pant.
At the police station, Ahmadzai chanced upon a student
activist group that volunteered to support her. Her crusade for
justice spread like wildfire among activists, student bodies,
lawyers and the media.
The All India Students Association, the student wing of the
Communist Party of India Marxist-Leninist People’s
Liberation, picked up her case.
“We are lending our support to Sabra because this is a significant case to highlight the various forms of atrocities committed on womenfolk. Through her we want to reach across
to subjugated women worldwide that they must come out in
the open and demand their rights,” says Mobeen Alam, a PhD
student and joint secretary of the Jawaharlal Nehru
University’s students union.
When her mother returned to Kabul, Ahmadzai decided to
stay on in Delhi. She met India’s home minister and officials
Anisha Ralhan traces an Afghan girl’s
journey from Kabul to Uttarakhand in search
of the Indian army officer who let her down
at the National Commission for Women, demanding that
Pant be expelled from the army and made to face charges of
bigamy. Since the marriage occurred on foreign soil, it
required political intervention, she says.
With the help of her advocate Ravinder Singh Gariha, she
approached the Karkardooma district court in New Delhi to
file bigamy charges and seek alimony.
In 2009, the trial court passed a verdict asking Pant to pay
a monthly maintenance of Rs 8,000 ($160) to Ahmadzai,
which she said enforced her belief in the Indian judicial system.
“The court’s decision was really heartening. I learnt that my
efforts are not going in vain but I am not going to stop my
struggle here. I want to see him behind bars [If convicted of
bigamy, Pant will face 10 years in jail].”
If proven guilty, he will also be penalized for changing his
religion without the army’s consent.
Ahmadzai’s quest for justice has not been entirely
smooth. Though Pant accepted marrying her when confronted in front of his family, he still denies it in public.
The army, which initiated its probe into the matter, has
Chandrashekar Pant and Sabra Ahmadzai at their wedding in 2006
said there is ambiguity about the wedding date.
The army’s probe team said Ahmadzai’s version,
which said their wedding took place in
December 2006, was incorrect because the
major was in Kabul only till November 2006.
“There was a discrepancy in the date due to
the difference in the Indian and Afghani calendars,” says Ahmadzai.
Pant’s lawyer was quoted as saying that the videos and pictures were morphed.
So what has been the most challenging for her: Taking on
an alien system or confronting her husband?
She chose staying away from her family as the most painful.
“It is the first time I am managing my life independently. I
battle the thought of running back to my homeland every day
but when I think of the disgrace inflicted upon my family, I
She attributed her courage to her family, especially her
father who has backed her in turbulent times. She is also
grateful to her lawyer who takes care of her as a family mem-
Ahmadzai, who turned 21 this year, has enrolled in a course
in English and computers to occupy herself. She is in constant
communication with her father who works in a construction
business, her four brothers and four sisters.
She has rented a small room in Delhi and chooses to keep
her location discreet, but is happy to live in the area, making
friends with neighborhood folk.
“They are now my brothers and sisters. I am blessed to have
them around,” she says.
She is a tad melancholy about not getting to meet her
brother who was born a month ago.
“Life has been unfair to me and my family but then my mis-
ery keeps me going. Every time my spirit sinks, I think of the
multiple hurdles I jumped, so I tell myself that if I have come
this far, I might as well cover the final lapse to justice.”
More than anything, she sees herself as an example for
other women. “I would only say to them, you must speak out
about your woes and not be harsh on yourself. It is easy to
sulk, and feel suicidal but that would not do justice to you.” ;