Resisting Taliban Rule: The Sisters Behind the Last Torch Movement

Amidst the global attention on the Taliban’s resurgence to power in August 2021, two sisters residing in Kabul found themselves directly affected by the tightening grip of the new regime, which posed a threat to the freedoms of millions of women in Afghanistan.

Refusing to passively witness the curtailment of women’s rights, the sisters took a bold stance and clandestinely harnessed the power of their voices to resist the encroaching restrictions. Operating in an environment where musicians faced arrest, they initiated a clandestine singing movement on social media, identified as the Last Torch.

In a recorded video, one of the sisters acknowledged the perilous nature of their endeavor, stating, “We’re going to sing this, but it could cost us our lives.” The poignant release occurred in August 2021, mere days following the Taliban’s takeover, and swiftly gained traction on platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp.

Devoid of any musical background and choosing to conceal their identities behind burkas, the sisters emerged as an unexpected musical sensation.

“Our fight started right under the flag of the Taliban and against the Taliban,” affirms Shaqayeq (pseudonym), the younger sibling in the duo. “Before the Taliban assumed power, we had never written a single poem. This is what the Taliban did to us.”

Regaining control, the Taliban swiftly imposed its distinct vision for Afghanistan in less than 20 days.

The imposition of Sharia (Islamic religious law) on daily life and the restriction of women’s access to education were key priorities for the Taliban upon their return to power. Despite facing a severe crackdown, women in Kabul and other major cities took to the streets to resist these measures.

“Women were the last light of hope we could see,” expressed Shaqayeq.

“That’s why we decided to call ourselves the Last Torch. Believing that we wouldn’t be able to go anywhere, we chose to initiate a clandestine protest from home.”

The duo subsequently released additional songs, performed from beneath blue burkas, following the style of their initial song. One of these songs featured a renowned poem by the late Nadia Anjuman, who had written it in protest against the first Taliban takeover in 1996.

How can I speak of honey when my mouth is filled with poison?

Alas my mouth is smashed by a cruel fist…

Oh for the day that I break the cage,

Break free from this isolation and sing in joy.

In response to the Taliban’s ban on women’s education, Nadia Anjuman and her associates clandestinely gathered at an underground school, The Golden Needle. While feigning sewing activities, they secretly engaged in reading books, all while donning the blue burka, known as chadari in Afghanistan.

Mashal, the elder of the two singing sisters (also a pseudonym), likens the burka to “‘a mobile cage.”

“It’s akin to a graveyard where the dreams of thousands of women and girls are buried,” she expresses.

“This burka is like a stone that the Taliban threw on women 25 years ago,” adds Shaqayeq. “And they did it again when they returned to power.

“We aimed to wield the same weapon they used against us, to resist their constraints.”

The singing sisters, having released only seven songs to date, have left a profound impact on women across the nation. Initially employing lyrics from other writers, they eventually reached a juncture where “no poem could explain how we felt,” shares Shaqayeq. Consequently, they commenced crafting their own compositions.

Their music delves into the stifling constraints imposed on women’s daily lives, the incarceration of activists, and human rights violations.

Fans, resonating with the themes, have reciprocated by sharing their renditions on social media. Some enthusiasts have even donned burkas as a disguise during their performances. Notably, a group of Afghan school students residing abroad recorded a stage version in their school auditorium.

These expressions of solidarity stand in stark contrast to the Taliban’s intentions.


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