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  • Writer's picturePritika Chowdhry

Remembering Survivors on the Anniversary of the Third Anglo-Afghan War

Updated: Jul 1, 2022

Pritika Chowdhry. "An Archive of 1919." Enameled spittoon.

While researching “An Archive of 1919,” I came across the Third Anglo-Afghan war. The piece focuses on political events of 1919 and is part of my overarching series Partition Anti-Memorial Project. These events in 1919 created the world as we know it today. Many of these events results in violent ethnic and racial fissures that eventually led to partitions.

On this anniversary of the Third Anglo-Afghan War, I want to take a moment to talk about the gendered violence—how it was apparent in the Third Anglo-Afghan War, but also how it is still visible in Afghanistan today.

Afghanistan’s history

While the Third Anglo-Afghan War happened in 1919, the effects of the war are still felt in the region, and it is part of Afghanistan’s checkered history. A region contentiously fought over by Americans, the British and Russians, its war-torn past has led it to where it is now—in a stranglehold of the Taliban. Until 1919, Afghanistan was a protectorate of the British, functioning as an intermediary between Russia and Britain. In 1919, the Emirate of Afghanistan invaded India. The war ended with an Armistice in 1919, granting Afghanistan independence. In the war’s wake, various monarchs took control of the country, leading to: “consistent tension between modernization and tribal tradition.”

Rape as a Weapon in the Anglo-Afghan War

While the Anglo-Afghan War’s far reaching political consequences have been remembered, often erased from history are the brutal tools of violence used by the British to gain victory. The Diplomat explains: “In Istalif, the British massacred every Afghan man past the age of puberty. The British raped hundreds of Afghan women in Istalif (and thousands during the entire course of war), as Arnold Fletcher recounted in his 1965 history of Afghanistan. It wouldn’t be unfair to conclude that the British used rape as a weapon of war against the Afghans. While the destruction of the British army by Afghans is common knowledge, few people are aware of British atrocities in Kabul, Charikar and Istalif.”

This type of patriarchal violence within conflict is exactly what motivates my work. As I began researching India’s Partition, I realized how rape was used as a weapon during the Partition violence, a shameful and often hidden element of India’s past. Indeed, the United Nations now recognizes rape as a war crime. In 2008, Condoleeza Rice told the UN: "we affirm that sexual violence profoundly affects not only the health and safety of women, but also the economic and social stability of their nations…This world body now acknowledges that sexual violence in conflict zones is, indeed, a security concern."

Rape as a Weapon today

Yet while the UN has categorized rape as an inexcusable weapon of war, it continues to be used, most recently in Ukraine. In a war, regardless of the atrocities they commit, we are told to look at soldiers as heroes. Interestingly, in 1919, Ukraine People’s Republic was locked in battle with Soviet Russia, they lost Kyiv to Russia on 2 February 1919 and which resulted in a political crisis within the national government of Ukraine. In An Archive of 1919, I wanted to highlight the historical roots of some of the present-day problems, focusing on the parallels in how violence is deployed and justified across various conflicts.

As the Taliban bars girls and women in Afghanistan from receiving education today, the direct impacts on the social well-being of women are evident. By tracing the historical roots of contemporary emotional and bodily violence against women, my work strives to create real change.


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