The Last Word bookstore was jam-packed on Friday with people from all walks of life who came to watch the screening of Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy’s Oscar-winning documentary A Girl in the River.
Sharmeen’s production team, which had come all the way from Karachi, had arranged the screening. The documentary was followed by a short discussion on honour killing and the system of patriarchy with Dr Neelum Hussain of Women Action Forum and the members of Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy (SOC) Films.
A Girl in the River is a story of a 19-year-old girl from Gujranwala who was kidnapped, shot and thrown in a canal by her father and uncle for leaving the house to marry the man of her choice. They thought they had killer her, but Saba miraculously managed to survive by crawling out of the canal and getting help from a nearby petrol pump.
The policeman who was investigating the case praised Saba for showing courage in the face of horror. She managed to get help despite being shot in the face, he said.
It was inspiring to see a girl refusing to die in silence and standing up for what she thought was right, but Saba’s ordeal moved the audience to tears on more than one occasion. I am not going to forgive them, the girl kept saying.
Her father had no regret whatsoever and was very proud of his action. He thought he taught Saba a lesson which she will never forget. “She was my responsibility. I had to protect her. She shouldn’t have played with the honour of the family. She committed an unforgivable crime.”
Saba’s father was sure that he did the right thing and claimed that he is highly respected because of his heroic action and that everyone in the village is impressed with his boldness and asks for his other daughters’ hand in marriage.
But Saba had to forgive her father and uncle and withdraw the case after her in laws were pressurised by the influential people of the area. She regretfully gave her statement to the court and forgave the accused.
I rest my case with Allah and only He can do justice to me, says a heartbroken yet remarkably strong Saba.
The best, most moving part of the documentary was when Saba said she wanted to have a daughter who can make her own choices and do whatever she pleases. Saba wants her daughter to get an education so she can grow up to be an empowered woman.
Dr Neelum Hussain of Women Action Forum discussed with audience the patriarchal mindset that enables honour killing and protects the murderers. “Patriarchy is a system of dissent where the name of the father and his property is passed on primarily to the male heads of the family, and there is a link between the name, property, resources, and valorization of the male child. Patriarchy is predicated on a fundamental fear, a fear that the child who is going to hold my name, my property may not be mine and that my wife belongs to some other man, therefore there is this strong desire to control the woman’s sexuality and her economic productivity because it will ensure continuation of the patriarchal system.”, she said.
Neelum said honor killing is one of the aspects of a system of dominance and control. Societies generally like to use force or like to be seen using force. This is where the seeds of honor killings lie, she said.
Strange things happen when we talk of honor with reference to women and the situation gets very twisted. “If I as a man abduct a woman or rape her, I may or may not be punished given the state of our Hudood laws, but she will be punished because the dishonor will be hers. ‘Where were you all night? Where did you stay? What did you do when you were not under our surveillance? Why did you leave the house? How were you dressed?’ These are the questions the abducted woman will get asked and the abductor will go scot free because of the protection our laws give to the perpetrators of such crimes. “
Neelum was of the opinion that the dishonor and blame somehow come to rest on the woman and the honour remains with the family. The victim may be the woman but the society sees her family as the victim, she said.
Neelum Hussain told the audience that in 2004, the issue of honour killing was to some extent resolved through changes in penal code of 1960 but it did not have an impact on honour crimes because Qisas and Diyat laws were neither abolished nor repealed. These laws privatized murder and were part of Zia’s Islamisation process, she said.
To separate honor killing from the rest of the killing, we need to do away with the Qisas and Diyat laws, she said in response to a question. Make honor killing a crime against the state and the families should not have the authority to forgive the murderer. If the murderer knows he will get out of the jail after being forgiven, the laws will remain weak, she added.
The members of SOC Films said they heard about Saba through media. “She reported her own case and we followed everyone. In honor killings they are no survivors. We chose Saba because she lived to tell her story.”
They further said that the mindset behind honor killing can be changed by maintaining conversations on the issue.
Sharmeen met with lawmakers and the documentary was shown in the parliament house. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has pledged to take steps to eliminate honor killings. Without implementation, the laws are useless. Such documentaries cannot end the crime overnight but they will certainly add to the efforts, the team said.