Acid victims fear backlash over Saving Face

Published: May 23, 2012

Obaid-Chinoy insists the women signed legal documents allowing the film to be shown anywhere in the world. PHOTO: PUBLICITY

ISLAMABAD: Survivors of acid attacks whose plight became the focus of an Oscar-winning documentary now fear ostracism and reprisals if the film is broadcast in Pakistan.

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy made history earlier this year when she won Pakistan’s first Oscar, feted across the country for exposing the horrors endured by women whose faces are obliterated in devastating acid attacks.

Her 40-minute film focuses on Zakia and Rukhsana as they fight to rebuild their lives after being attacked by their husbands, and British Pakistani plastic surgeon Mohammad Jawad who tries to help repair their shattered looks.

When Saving Face scooped a coveted gold statuette in the documentary category in Hollywood in February, campaigners were initially jubilant.

The Acid Survivors Foundation Pakistan (ASF) had cooperated on the film but some survivors now fear a backlash in a deeply conservative society – and are taking legal action against the producers.

“We had no idea it would be a hit and win an Oscar. It’s completely wrong. We never allowed them to show this film in Pakistan,” said Naila Farhat, 22, who features fleetingly in the documentary.

She was 13 when the man she refused to marry threw acid in her face as she walked home from Independence Day celebrations. She lost an eye and her attacker was jailed for 12 years.

After a long, painful recovery, she is training as a nurse.

“This is disrespect to my family, to my relatives and they’ll make an issue of it. You know what it’s like in Pakistan. They gossip all the time if they see a woman in a film,” said Farhat, taut skin where her left eye dissolved.

“We may be in more danger and we’re scared that, God forbid, we could face the same type of incident again. We do not want to show our faces to the world.”

Lawyer Naveed Muzaffar Khan, whom ASF hired to represent the victims, said legal notices were sent to Obaid-Chinoy and fellow producer Daniel Junge on Friday.

The survivors, he said, “have not consented for it to be publicly released in Pakistan”, adding that such agreement was required for all the women who featured in the film, no matter how fleetingly.

Khan said the producers had seven days to agree not to release the film publicly in the country, or he would go to court to seek a formal injunction.

“They (survivors) were absolutely clear in their mind in not allowing any public screening as that would jeopardise their life in Pakistan and make it difficult for them to continue to live in their villages,” he told AFP.

But Obaid-Chinoy insisted the women signed legal documents allowing the film to be shown anywhere in the world, including Pakistan.

She told AFP that Rukhsana had been edited out of the version to be shown in the country out of respect for her concerns, adding she was “unclear about the allegations” and would respond to the legal complaints “when a court orders us”.

Rukhsana was not reachable for comment.

Many of the women are routinely threatened by their husbands or relatives and it is a television broadcast that they particularly fear.

“The accessibility is so wide scale, the chances are their lives are going to be threatened,” said the lawyer, Khan.

The producers promised that profits from screenings in Pakistan would go to Zakia and Rukhsana, but the row also hints at deeper differences between film-makers trying to tell a story and charity workers on the ground.

Some medical personnel, for example, believe it was wrong to focus on an expatriate doctor at the expense of countless local surgeons who have treated dozens of victims.

Others believe the film was too sensational and question whether it really will make a difference to the survivors struggling to live in Pakistan, where there are scores of such attacks each year.

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Reader Comments (10)

  • May 23, 2012 - 12:37PM

    Perhaps Sharmeen will work for their protection after winning the oscars as well?

    By the way how can producers show it in Pakistan without the consent of the people in the story?

    I hope same thing does not happen to this documentary’s participants which happened to the poor kids of slum-dog millionaire who remained poor while the producers got all the gold.


  • Aamir
    May 23, 2012 - 1:29PM

    How exactly are their lives going to be threatened?


  • Abdul Qayyum Bhatti
    May 23, 2012 - 2:48PM

    Question is how can a producer film someone without one their consent especially in these girls cases. And if they have filmed with the girls consents, do you think it was filmed not to shown. Now question arises either the girls were told the audience of the documentary? and most important is that if there was any written agreement? I hope producer didn’t care to have a written consent of these girls.


  • Anon
    May 23, 2012 - 2:59PM

    Even if they did sign the legal documents it is possible they did it without understand the full meaning of what they were signing. These women were desperate to get access to treatment, and it is possible they agreed to do whatever the filmaker asked of them. I dont care ho wcelebrated the documentary is, these patients were quiet crassly exploited and their privacy openly infringed upon during treatment in the name of a documentary targeted audience.
    The above complaints are not surprisingly given these concerns had been raised earlier by a blogger Abira in her review of the film.


  • Abdul Qayyum Bhatti
    May 23, 2012 - 3:00PM

    These filing petition against the documentary, could be a stunt to limelight the film. We have witnessed many examples in our past that petition had been filed against many songs to ban them in Pakistan which proved to be stunt for gaining popularity for these songs and the singers. And it might be true even for the documentary to a file petition against it because the after winning the Oscar, the documentary became popular and then forgotten by media. Filing petition against, could revive the name of the producers and will also remind Oscar winning for Pakistan.


  • May 23, 2012 - 5:39PM

    “This is disrespect to my family, to my relatives and they’ll make an issue of it. You know what it’s like in Pakistan. They gossip all the time if they see a woman in a film,” said Farhat, taut skin where her left eye dissolved.

    Wow. That was pretty…ahemm Graphic!


  • Jameela Khan
    May 23, 2012 - 7:23PM

    Now These Victims need money simply…Pakistanis are mean…


  • husna
    May 23, 2012 - 10:27PM

    @aamir: get into their shoes and I’ll ask you.!


  • Hassan
    May 23, 2012 - 11:00PM

    Anybody who can’t see the film is just denying the truth. And closing you eyes doesn’t make things better.


  • Shin this pit
    May 24, 2012 - 1:40AM

    Consent or lack thereof aside, why don’t they simply blur the faces or use silhouettes instead to protect the identity of the women?


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