In The Name of ‘Honor’

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy meets the press in Karachi on Saturday after returning from Hollywood where she received an Oscar for her documentary on honor crimes against women in Pakistan. Image courtesy SOC Films.

By Omar R Quraishi

Film-maker Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy did Pakistan proud yet again — winning her second Oscar for documentary film-making. Her first one was for Saving Face which highlighted the terrible stories of women in Pakistan whose faces have been disfigured by acid attacks. This year’s Oscar winning film, A Girl In The River: The Price of Forgiveness is on the country’s unfortunately honor killing crimes.

Every year, the media reports hundreds of deaths of women across the country and police call these ‘honor killings’ because the culprit — usually a husband, a father, brother or even a son — does it with the perceived intention of protecting his and/or his family’s honor. In many cases, even the mere talking of a woman to a man who is deemed a stranger can be grounds for such violence. In fact, only last week, a man in the city of Lahore killed his sister when, according to police, she was unable to account for her whereabouts for a few hours.

Of course, Pakistan is not the only country where ‘honor killings’ take place — they have been reported even in European countries such as Armenia and Bosnia where societies place a disproportionately high premium on a woman’s perceived place in the family and community and what should happen to her if she oversteps those boundaries.

The issue is that the anger and ire of Obaid-Chinoy’s critics is entirely misplaced. If they can’t applaud her for winning two Oscars and helping improve Pakistan’s much-blighted image in the eyes of the world, then they should at least direct their anger and resentment in the right place — and that should be against those involved in the heinous crime or ‘honor killings’.

Her critics make absurd arguments like why doesn’t she make a documentary on racism in America (why should she given that she’s based in Pakistan) or why doesn’t she make one on drone victims (a valid point but others have done this and one cannot demand what a filmmaker should or shouldn’t make).

Her critics should know that the Oscar for Best Film this year was for Spotlight, a film that chronicled the prevalence of child abuse and pedophilia in parts of the Catholic Church in America. No one there said that the film shouldn’t have been made or called its maker a ‘traitor’ or ‘anti-America’. In fact they praised the film-makers for talking about a subject long considered taboo and helping widen public debate and in the process build pressure on all those involved in it to be punished.

That is precisely what seems to have happened in the case of The Girl in The River which was screened at Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s official residence and most of his cabinet members also watched it. Following it, Sharif said that his government would introduce legislation to target honor killings and that there was no place for such heinous acts in Islam.

One can only hope that Obaid-Chinoy’s critics will understand the point that a film-maker, like any creative artist, will only make something that she feels is true to her own conscience and does not have to answer to people who demand that a certain kind of film be made. They should also understand that the argument that such things spoil Pakistan’s image make no sense because it’s not as if the rest of the world doesn’t know about honor killings or that they will go away if no one reports on them in the media.

The writer is Editor, Web and Online, ARY News and tweets @omar_quraishi


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