Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s documentary “Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness” has been nominated for an Academy Award. The documentary is about an 18-year-old Pakistani girl, Saba, who fell in love and eloped with her lover.
Though caught by her father and other family members, she lived to tell her story. Unfortunately, many girls who are victims of “honor killings” aren’t lucky enough to do the same.
For example, in May 2014, the horrific public stoning of Farzana Parveen unveiled the severity of this barbaric crime in Pakistan. Farzana was stoned to death in front of a court in the Pakistani city of Lahore by 20 of her family members, including her father and her cousin (who was also her ex-fiancé). Her only crime was marrying a man whom she loved despite her family’s refusal.
This story of a girl falling in love, but having no choice but to elope because of her parents’ refusal, and in the end being caught by her family and being killed in the name of “honor,” is not unheard of in Pakistan — especially for those living in rural areas.
Women and girls often carry the heavy burden of being the sacred guardians of the family’s honor in Pakistan, and for them to fall in love and actually choose their spouse is often viewed as a disgrace in many families.
Each year approximately 1,000 girls in Pakistan are killed in the name of honor. Of course, these are conservative numbers, since these killings are rarely reported. Women and girls often carry the heavy burden of being the sacred guardians of the family’s honor in Pakistan, and for them to fall in love and actually choose their spouse is often viewed as a disgrace in many families.
In many instances, it is viewed as worse, making it a crime punishable only by death. There’s no sense one can make out of digging for the reason behind honor killings, really. It is often categorized as a religiously motivated act, when in reality Islam gives women a free choice toward whom they can marry. It is her God-given right to say yes or no to marriage.
When Obaid-Chinoy’s nomination was announced, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif vowed to eradicate honor killings as an inhumane act. Despite his open declaration, the Pakistani people aren’t to blame if they doubt that Sharif will actually follow through on his vow.
Sharif has also vowed in the past to eradicate other “evils” in the country, including polio. Unfortunately, Pakistan remains one of the only two countries in the world in which polio is still an epidemic. Forget eradicating polio, Sharif has failed to simply protect the polio workers who are under constant threat in Pakistan. Earlier this month, a polio vaccination center in Quetta was targeted by terrorists, which left at least 15 people dead.
In addition, Pakistan has very lax laws which fail to protect victims of honor killings. The Hudood Ordinances were imposed by Pakistani dictator Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq in 1979 as part of his efforts to “Islamasize” the country. During the process, the bloodthirsty Zia passed many laws, including the infamous blasphemy law, which was intended to raise extremist sentiment in the country.
The Hudood Ordinances in particular were especially harsh — to say the least — on women. They were a set of laws which criminalized adultery and non-marital sex. This blurred the line between rape and consensual sex. Under Zia’s rule, Pakistani courts dealt with cases of girls being raped by sending them to prison for adultery.
Article 9 of Pakistan’s Constitution, “Security of Person,” states that no person should be deprived of their life or their rights unless they broke the law. Article 8 states that the government cannot enforce a law that denies basic rights.
Little wonder, then, that critics consider the Hudood Ordinances “unconstitutional.” The laws were never repealed, not even by Benazir Bhutto, the first female prime minister of Pakistan, who advocated for women rights. So there is little expectation that Sharif will actually enforce laws that criminalize and eradicate honor killings. I hope to be proven wrong someday.
In an interview with ARY News, Obaid-Chinoy explained Saba’s story and shed light on the urgent need for ending the barbaric practice of stoning. Saba was shot by her family members and was thrown in a river in Punjab. Her life was miraculously saved. The doctors at the local hospital where she received medical care tried their best to save her life. Police officers were successful in arresting the criminals who attempted to murder her.
While telling Saba’s story, Obaid-Chinoy also explained a discovery she had while writing her dark story. She realized that if every member of society worked together to preserve humanity — this crime can end once and for all.
“If these killings are made easy [or viewed as a commonplace wrong], then we stop believing that this is actually a crime. It’s a stain on our society and we need to remove this stain.” -Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy
There is no doubt that the law is weak, which makes it so easy for people in Pakistan to have no choice but to accept this crime.
I can’t help but question why this barbaric practice is common in a country which was founded by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, a man who said these very words: “No struggle can ever succeed without women participating side by side with men. There are two powers in the world; one is the sword and the other is the pen. There is a third power stronger than both, that of women.”
Those are the values which Pakistan was founded on. One which honors women and does not take their life while searching for it. Pakistan cannot let crimes like stoning be a part of its culture. This need to protect false pride and honor has turned a father blind and has deprived him of unconditionally loving his daughter, and has blinded him from listening to what his faith actually says.
There is no honor in killing. The majority of Pakistan accepts that. But many have yet to be convinced.
Image: SOC Films Website