I survived the Dehmazang bombing, we should never forget those who didn’t

By Jawad Raha

I was walking towards the centre of the square when a deafening boom echoed in my ears. Turning my head, I caught a glimpse of the white smoke intertwined with flames for a fleeting second. And everything turned dark. I regained consciousness amid the thuds of gunfire in the air. And my eyes opened to the sight of blood dripping from my right forearm. I instinctively clutched it with my other hand and tried to move my legs, feeling relieved they were intact. But I quickly realized the horror unfolding before me. It was chaos. People were screaming. Some were limping, some were crawling and many lay motionless and soaked in blood. 

It was July 23, 2016, and a demonstration organized by the Enlightenment Movement in Kabul was underway to protest the structural injustice in Afghanistan, particularly the rerouting of an electricity transmission line that disproportionately affected the marginalized Hazara people in the central highlands of Hazarajat. The protest was planned to march to downtown Kabul, but the government blocked their route with shipping containers the night before, which forced the protestors to camp at Dehmazang. The area, notorious for hosting the Dehmazang prison, which was established following the assassination of King Mohammad Nadir by Abdul Khaliq Hazara in retaliation for the regime’s murder of Hazaras in their villages and the imposition of excessive taxes that were starving them to death.

I arrived at Dehmazang around noon, and I noticed that two of the roads leading to the square were open, with policemen casually sitting under the shade of trees or nearby buildings. Passersby and ice-cream vendors mingled with the protesters without any security checks. This allowed suicide bombers to infiltrate the crowd and detonate their bombs, resulting in the devastating loss of 87 lives and leaving over 500 injured.

Seven years have passed since that tragic day, and I have tried my best to forget the tragic event. But each morning, as I set foot on the floor, the shrapnel left inside my sole reminds me of that horrendous day. It reminds me of the crowded hospital room where two people shared a single bed to accommodate the multitude of wounded. It reminds me of the young boy lying beside me, fearing that the shrapnel lodged in his head might end his life. It reminds me of the dead bodies being taken out of the room every other minute. And most painfully, it reminds me of how the protesters were demonized by various sections of Afghanistan’s society and government, labeled as foreign agents, and effectively victimized again.

At times, I wonder what could have been if the government had heeded the protesters’ demands and listened to their cries for justice and equality. What would have happened if the government had not treated civic movements as enemies, exposing them to terrorist attacks and opening fire on them? And what could have gone differently if a strong civic movement had taken root in the country that was facing the danger of the Taliban takeover? Though these questions will forever remain unanswered, it is certain that if the Ghani government had treated civic movements as democratic allies instead of adversaries, the country would have been better off, and its future brighter.

For me, every day is a reminder of my own luck to have survived and of the hundreds who didn’t. They and their quest for justice and equality should never be forgotten.