Batul Moradi, A Survivor Inspiring Afghan Women with Her Words
I met Batul Moradi years ago when she moved to Afghanistan in search of a new life after spending decades as a refugee in Iran. Her creativity, resilience, and unconventional independence was a mystery to me. She worked as a painter for a children’s magazine and seeing her lost in stacks of paper inspired me because she was a woman in love with her work.
Everything changed for Batul when she got married a few years after moving to Kabul. Her husband, Ghulam Hazrat Wahriz was a prominent diplomat and a man of power and from the get-go he exercised all the powers our male-dominated country afforded him on Batul. She started working less. She left jobs because of Wahriz’s jealousy and ensuing drama. She even stopped coming to our house regularly despite regarding my family as her own. For about two years, I lost touch with Batul partly due to Wahriz’s restrictions on her mobility and partly because I moved to the United States for school.
When we reconnected, Batul lived a different life. Sometimes, when I looked at her, I felt like the light of her eyes had disappeared. Batul and Wahriz had been separated, largely because he claimed that she had committed adultery, a crime punishable by prison, lashing, and even stoning in some parts of Afghanistan. They had two children together, but Wahriz claimed that one of them didn’t belong to him. In Afghanistan, this is a dangerous accusation with deep legal and social consequences. Hundreds of women are imprisoned in Afghanistan for “moral crimes” such as this one.
Because of the accusation and the divorce and the stigma around them, Batul had a difficult time finding a job or a place to live. She was isolated even in the literary and artistic circles where once she was an outspoken leader. Her children were also suffering. Wahriz rarely paid for the costs of the child he accepted, let alone the one he didn’t. In addition, according to Afghanistan’s laws a child’s identity is based on that of his or her father. Batul’s younger son was not able to get a national ID and would have not been able to get a passport to travel outside the country without Wahriz’s approval.
After nearly five years of battling the corrupt, unjust, and discriminatory justice system in Afghanistan and tolerating and fighting humiliation, threats, harassment, and bribe requests, Batul was able to conduct a DNA test on her younger child. The test proved Wahriz’s accusation wrong. This was the first time in Afghanistan that DNA tests were conducted to prove paternity. Despite her win, Batul’s children still don’t have national ID because Wahriz has refused to provide support in the process, but this accomplishment was an important one for Batul nevertheless. The case was also monumental for other women in Afghanistan because the kinds of accusations and problems she faced are not uncommon. At the time, I wrote this piece about this landmark case and Batul’s struggle.
Fast forward to almost five years later, this week, Batul was finally able to able to publish a memoir of her battle for custody and dignity. Given the insanely unjust custody laws and the rampant sexual harassment and corruption in the judicial sector in Afghanistan, this book is a gem of historical importance. Titled Qadhaf (meaning “Slander”), Batul’s book chronicles, in Persian, her life after marriage as she fought for divorce, custody, and against defamation.
“This book is a depiction of my life. I tried hard to make this depiction soft, but I couldn’t remove the insidious traces of violence from it. This is our life, a life weaved with many layers of violence and injustice, in a way that I have felt lucky when facing other victims of abuse,” Batul says about her book and the rampant violence faced by Afghan women.
Afghanistan’s judicial system is nothing short of a maze. Having worked with a few women survivors of violence and abuse as they sought justice, I can testify firsthand that this system was never meant to protect the marginalized. It is corrupt, unjust, and- though there are some exceptions- filled with old men with no interest in defending women’s rights. As we see in Batul’s book, for Afghan women, the road to justice is filled with obstacles and dangers. Without awareness of their legal rights and the intricacies of fighting for them, there is very little hope for women facing abuse to free themselves. For them and many others, Batul’s book is a guiding light.