Filmmaker Takes on Honor Killing in Pakistan

By Sonya Rehman

With the 88th Academy Awards taking place today, Pakistani documentary filmmaker, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s Oscar-nominated documentary, A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, brings to focus the gruesome practice of honor killings in Pakistan.

Having taken home an Oscar in 2012 for Saving Face, a documentary about victims of acid attacks in the country, the filmmaker unravels the tragic case of Saba Qaiser, in her current production.

Shot and dumped in a river by her very own father and uncle for eloping with and marrying a man against her family’s wishes, A Girl in the River follows the story of a 19-year-old who fought for justice, eventually acquiescing to the release of the perpetrators – relatives who had attempted to take her life – on the behest of her village elders.

A still from A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness
A still from A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness

Reading about Saba’s ordeal in a local newspaper, Obaid-Chinoy visited Saba in the hospital where she was being treated at, hoping to present the teenager’s case to a bigger audience.

“While filming, I realized the kind of mindset that we were up against,” stated the filmmaker once the production was underway, “I went to speak with Saba’s father after [his arrest] and he had so much hatred in him. He was still adamant that Saba was in the wrong and he felt justified trying to kill his own daughter.”

According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), there have been over 15,000 reported cases of honor killings stretched across from 2004 till the present day.

On average, over 1,000 girls and women in Pakistan fall victim to honor killings on an annual basis. With the help of her documentary and Obaid-Chinoy’s anti-honor killing campaign, the filmmaker hopes to pressure Parliament to once and for all, pass the Anti-Honor Killing Laws (Criminal Laws Amendment) Bill 2014, introduced by a Senator from the province of Punjab, Sughra Imam.

“We are determined to push all stakeholders to pass the Anti-Honor Killing Laws in the Parliament,” Obaid-Chinoy stated, “This would right a long-standing wrong in Pakistani society and ensure that perpetrators are punished and victims are protected.”

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy (Photo by Bina Khan)
Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy (Photo by Bina Khan)

This year, Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, declared his support in favor of the filmmaker’s production, vowing to eradicate honor killings in the country.

“I hope this film will spur more support for the victims of honor killings and send out a strong message that this heinous crime is not a part of our culture or religion,” stated the filmmaker.

While Obaid-Chinoy received immense praise after her 2012 Oscar win, her critics denounce her for highlighting the wrongs in Pakistani society, thus portraying the country in a negative light.

However the filmmaker is quick to respond; “I welcome criticism because, as an investigative journalist, I feel that it is my duty to address issues that people do not want to discuss,” she stated, “I choose to film subjects that spark difficult conversations and make people uncomfortable. Change only comes about when people are forced to discuss an issue, and that’s what I hope my films do by highlighting the issue.”

Today, while the world celebrates Valentine’s Day, a number of Pakistani women succumb to honor killings by their very own kin.

Their one, sole ‘fault?’ Choosing who to love.




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