Minutes before the Taliban attacked her guesthouse in Kabul, Martha Farrell, an NGO director and a women’s rights crusader, had told her husband over the phone that she would be back on Saturday “after spending Friday night with friends”. “She sounded satisfied with her work in Kabul,” her husband Rajesh Tandon recalled.
On Friday, as Farrell’s body was flown to Delhi by a special Indian Air Force plane, Tandon said, “This is not how I expected her to reach home.”
Martha’s body, along with the bodies of three other victims from India — two auditors and a consultant for an Afghan government project — arrived in Delhi on Friday evening. A total of 14 persons died in the attack.
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Farrell and her husband had founded the President of Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA) in 1982 to promote citizens’ participation in democratic governance. As Farrell’s remains reached the PRIA office on Friday evening, colleagues, friends and family members gathered to pay their tributes.
“Long before an act on sexual harassment at the workplace was formulated, Martha put in place a sexual harassment committee in this office. In order to encourage women to file such complaints, boxes in the women’s washroom were put up so that complaints could be filed anonymously,” said Tapati Dutta, who briefly worked under Farrell at PRIA.
Condolence messages and photographs put up in the office told a story about Farrell’s life.
“Martha was a strong woman, always very focussed and determined. She was a great trainer, she was instrumental in mainstreaming gender in PRIA, and she always raised gender issues in all discourses. Martha was passionate about her work,” read a message by Sahayi – Centre for Collective Learning and Action.
Apart from her strong views on gender issues, many remembered Farrell for her humility.
An alumnus of Delhi University, she went on to finish her doctoral thesis from Jamia Millia Islamia.
During her 25-year career, Farrell was associated with national and international projects on the role of gender in education, research and policy formulation. “She also worked extensively in the field of non-formal education,” a colleague recalled.
“She had been to Kabul a few times in the past. This time, she had gone for a training programme on gender issues. She had left on May 9 and was supposed to return tomorrow,” said Nandita, who closely worked with Farrell at PRIA.
Another colleague pointed to a poster with Farrell’s image and a quote: “Men need to consider their behaviour, because what men consider natural may not be seen the same way by women. Drawing the line means being able to say ‘no’, because as women we have a choice.”
Farrell is survived by her husband and two children, Suheil and Tarika. Her last rites will be performed at the Lodhi crematorium on Saturday.