(August 26, 2021) Just a few days ago Vida Samadzai, Afghanistan’s first model to participate in an international pageant, was comfortably seated at her breakfast table in her plush Los Angeles home with some acquaintances. Soon however, shocking news began pouring in about the situation in her motherland: Afghanistan. Scrolling through social media posts, she came across a torrent of distressing news about the Taliban takeover. Horrified, the 43-year-old chanced upon video clips of Taliban brutality against young women in Afghanistan: she went numb, the clips brought back long forgotten memories. She made frantic calls to relatives and friends back home, to check on their well-being.
Horrors best forgotten
“The Taliban 2.0 is going to be all about barbarism, torture and inhuman behavior not just towards women but children and men as well. I can tell that from my past experiences,” declares Vida, a Pashtun who was born and brought up in Kabul. She lost a young relative to suicide bombing and has come across numerous instances of her classmates being tortured and beaten up by the Taliban. One of the most tragic stories was that of a young girl in her neighborhood, who jumped to her death from a residential complex in an upscale Kabul locality when the militia knocked on her door in a bid to kidnap her.
Growing up amid these dark events for a major part of her life is what appears to have shaped Vida into what she is today — free thinking, fearless and an outspoken woman who cares two hoots about orthodox traditions. When she appeared in a red bikini in the 2003 edition of the Miss Earth pageant it enraged the hardliners back home including the Afghan Supreme Court. She was condemned for going against Islamic law and Afghan culture; but Vida decided to soldier on. She went on to make a successful career for herself as a model, appeared in Bigg Boss Season 5 and briefly dabbled in Hindi cinema as well.
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Afghanistan of yore
“Most Afghans never wrapped themselves into old traditional rules and regulations. Men in our group did not sport a beard while women never wore a burqa. Afghanistan was known to be the second Paris and most women would closely follow fashion and were stylish: something they would pick up from the Vogue magazine which made its way into Afghanistan back in the 1960s and 70s. We were never interested in a conservative, orthodox way of living,” says Vida, speaking exclusively to Global Indian.
After completing her graduation from Kabul, she briefly visited Delhi and then moved to the US in 1996. She went on to win the Miss America 2005-06 pageant and was the second Afghan woman to participate in the international beauty pageant since 1974, the first being Zohra Daoud.
“Afghans are fighters and they cannot be conquered. History is replete with examples of our courage and bravery. We may not have sophisticated weapons like the Taliban but we have the passion and the never-say-die attitude. Afghans are also known to be hospitable and kind hearted,” she adds.
where do her parents live in Afghanistan? “For their safety, I cannot reveal that,” she says. Interestingly, her father studied in a Lucknow University while her mother studied college in Kabul and then left for Europe to pursue higher studies.
— Vida Samadzai (@MissAfghanistan) August 19, 2018
Shaped by brutality
This Afghan-American recalls how the Taliban would torture people on flimsy grounds.
“We were taught the Quran Sharif in high school. But one cannot just memorize it word by word. Once, the Taliban randomly asked a 13-year-old to recite a “Surah” from the Quran and when he could not, they repeatedly slapped him. In another instance, they tortured a relative of mine and abandoned him in the mountains,” recalls Vida.
Based on the feedback she receives on a daily basis from her country, she says not just women, even men are worried and desperate to leave the country. “Did we ever witness men trying to fly on the wing of a plan in a bid to leave their country?” she wonders, referring to the videos showing Afghan men desperately trying to escape Afghanistan over the past 10 days.
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Vida was associated with a US-based women’s charity to work towards raising awareness about women’s rights and education in her country. Ask her if she wants to return to Afghanistan, she replies in the affirmative. ”There was a job offer to host a show, designed on the lines of American idol. But I could not take it up as the job demanded that I stay in Afghanistan for four months. I had other work commitments and I had to turn down the offer.”
“But I will go back to my country one day and help in making Afghan women financially independent by creating jobs. I do not fear the Taliban.”