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    Taliban feel a bath in a hammam is not a good idea. Ban women from using public bathhouses

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    Taliban feel a bath in a hammam is not a good idea. Ban women from using public bathhouses

    Afghanistan’s Taliban, known for their strict observance of Islamic codes, have banned women and men from using hammams, or public bathhouses, in the Balkh province.

    Authorities in the Balkh province, north of Afghanistan, have banned women from using public bathhouses.

    “Women can only bathe in their private settings with a hijab on,” said Sardar Mohammad Haidari, the provincial head of the ministry of propagation of virtue and prevention of vice in Balkh.

    Attempting not to be perceived as being discriminatory towards women, the Taliban leader added that men baths too would be controlled.

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    What are the public bathhouses?

    The public bathhouses or hammams as they are called by local people, are used by the poor for cleaning. Each hammam accommodates up to 100 people. The people use the public bathhouses because the parts of the city they come from lacks running water – and because they need to have a bath.

    Municipalities in the war-torn country have been unable to provide water. Bathers do not necessarily like the hammams, but they use these private infrastructures to bathe in the absence of any alternative.

    Even big cities like Kabul were not spared of the broken down water system for lack of funds. While much of that is restored over the years, areas in the fringe of the cities still are not supplied with water.

    Much of the pipeline was restored over the years. But there are still parts of Afghanistan where the water pipe network is deficient.

    Three in every five people in the cities do not have access to running water, a humanitarian worker working with a global relief organisation told OWSA. “While most of it was damaged in the decades of fighting, much has also been lost to the lack of maintenance over time,” he said. “And we mustn’t forget that the recurring droughts are also contributing to the water pipes drying up.”

    The public bathhouses are also a necessity in Afghanistan’s winter because people living on the cities’ outer rims often do not have the resources to spend on fuel to heat water for a bath. On a large scale, a hammam is affordable. It costs up to 25 Afghani to have a bath. Some bathers follow up the bath with a vigorous massage for another 25 Afghani.

    Taliban’s discomfort with hammams

    A bath in a hammam is not a very private thing. Men and women – in separate sections – wash themselves in the hammams’ large marble-floored steam rooms.

    The Taliban has its own strict interpretation of Islam and Talibs consider the custom decadent. Even earlier in 1996, the vice and virtue police had clamped down on the hammams. Women were banned from exposing their bodies, even in the exclusive company of women, as it is in the case of the hammams.

    The commune bathhouses were also banned by the Taliban during their earlier stint in power. At that time, hammams had become essential also because the municipal water supply system had broken down.

    But one aid worker with years of experience in Afghanistan says that there is more to the closure of the hammams. “The hammams in Balkh will open up once they negotiate a deal,” he told OWSA. The deal would, in all likelihood, be in the shape of a monetary benefit for local Taliban leaders, he said.

    Taliban officials appeared to disagree over the closures of the bathhouses. Mohammad Sadiq Akif, a spokesman for the ministry of propagation of virtue and prevention of vice, denied that any order had been issued to the effect from Kabul.

    Public outcry

    Radio Azadi, run by Afghans in exile, quoted a woman who called herself as Rabia as saying that the Taliban was directing its resources into controlling the lives of citizens rather than addressing the myriad of problems facing the country. The Taliban “needs to pay attention to many more important issues we are grappling with,” she said.

    Criticising the Taliban’s closure of public bathhouses, Tamana Siddiqi, a women’s rights activist from Mazar-e Sharif told Radio Azadi, “People are dealing with growing economic pains, which means that not everyone can afford a hot bath inside their house.”

     

    Representative image (Royal bath or hammam shahi qila Burhanpur);
    Source: Wikimedia; Author Md iet

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