Sharmeen Obaid hopes Oscar-nominated film will help end honour killings in Pakistan

Published: February 8, 2016
Journalist and filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy speaks after receiving the Crystal Award during the annual World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting 2013 in Davos January 22, 2013. PHOTO: REUTERS

Journalist and filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy speaks after receiving the Crystal Award during the annual World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting 2013 in Davos January 22, 2013. PHOTO: REUTERS

KARACHI/ISLAMABAD: Oscar-winning filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy hopes her latest Academy Award-nominated documentary will help bring tougher laws against honour killings in the country, which account for the deaths of hundreds of women and men each year.

The film, which follows the story of a young woman who survived attempted murder by her father and uncle after marrying a man without their approval, was nominated for an Oscar in January, prompting Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to pledge to take a firm stand against the “evil” practice.

More than 500 men and women died in honour killings in 2015, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. Many of these crimes, carried out by relatives who say their mostly female victims have brought shame on the family, are never prosecuted, observers say.

PM Nawaz vows to eradicate honour killings after Oscar nod

“People need to realise that it is a very serious crime,” Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy told Reuters in an interview in Karachi. “It’s not something that is part of our religion or culture. This is something that should be treated as pre-meditated murder and people should go to jail for it.”

Obaid Chinoy’s film “A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness”, scheduled to air on HBO in March, tells the story of 19-year-old Saba from Punjab.

After marrying a man without the agreement of her family, Saba’s father and uncle beat her, shot her in the face, put her in a bag and threw her in a river, leaving her for dead. Saba survived, and set out to ensure that her attackers were brought to justice.

Her father and uncle were arrested and went to jail, but Saba was pressured to “forgive” her attackers. That option under the country’s law can effectively waive a complainant’s right to seek punishment against the accused, even in the case of attempted murder.

Altering the law to remove the possibility of “forgiveness” could help reduce the number of honour killings in Pakistan, advocates of such a change say.

An act that would amend the law across the country was passed by the Senate Standing Committee on Law and Justice last year, but did not clear the upper house of parliament due to delays, said Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Senator Sughra Imam, who introduced the bill when she was a lawmaker.

Both she and Obaid Chinoy hope the attention the film has received abroad and at home, including from PM Nawaz Sharif, might help push the amendments through. “The greatest win of ‘A Girl in the River’ would be if the prime minister does take the lead, brings the stakeholders on board and they pass the (act),” Obaid Chinoy said.

After the film was nominated in the short documentary category, Nawaz issued a statement congratulating the filmmaker and pledging his government’s commitment to rid Pakistan of the “evil” of honour killings by “bringing in appropriate legislation.”

Senate likely to clear bills against rape, honour crime

Obaid Chinoy has already won an Oscar in the same category for “Saving Face”, a film about acid attacks in the country. The premier invited the director to screen the new film at his residence to an audience of prominent Pakistanis.

Although it is not clear exactly how the prime minister proposes to change existing legislation, Obaid Chinoy said his reaction was a pleasant surprise. “This could be (Sharif’s) legacy … that no woman in this country should be killed in the name of honour, and if she is, people should go to jail for it,” she said. “The world is watching.”

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Reader Comments (10)

  • Brainy Bhaijan
    Feb 8, 2016 - 12:31PM

    Yup, because earning cash out of filming poor people’s miseries and then showing them to happy rich white folks in hollywood seriously solves all the problems.
    Lets all take out our cameras and start shooting our surroundings for money and fame.Recommend

  • excalibur
    Feb 8, 2016 - 1:28PM

    Why ? Only since your audience is the West and they will ask us to do more ?????????

    Plus chance of an Oscar Bakhshish to boot

    Doing another Malala instead of doing something here where the problem is

    Malala is educating the West and Shirmeen is projecting our ugly face so that the world should have pity on usRecommend

  • Asim khan
    Feb 8, 2016 - 6:51PM

    You were brilliant at KLF. the messages of films you make very powerful. Continue good fight. Don’t listen to people who are not saying good things they want pakistan to stay in dark place they don’t want women to be free. In my own family I seen honor ma manipulated. So thank you Recommend

  • Salman Ahmad
    Feb 8, 2016 - 7:23PM

    The things is that we like to hide our bad things. Why? Why we are happy if women getting killed. Maam you doing great job. when you come to KU to give workshops you open my eyes to these things. Yes we have to speak we have to change things. Thank you for inspiring us.Recommend

  • Shoaib khan
    Feb 8, 2016 - 8:39PM

    Weldone Ms Sharmeen you are a brave lady and doing wonderful job by highlighting the misery if poors which were killed in the name of so called honour. I hope yoour film will once again win the prestigious Oscar. Recommend

  • Aamer
    Feb 8, 2016 - 9:31PM

    How will this help people in Pakistan. She is just cashing on poor illetrate miseriesRecommend

  • Rawalpindi Kid
    Feb 8, 2016 - 11:35PM

    @Brainy Bhaijan: No its people of your sad mindset that the movie is really targeted to fight against. Your pea size brain, bhaijan, will always think negatively. The movie increases awareness of the huge issue, drives funding to fight it, and those funds are used to help the victims. Shermeen Obaid and Malala dont jus’t sell movies, they generate millions of dollars that are used to help victims and mobilize govt officials to change laws and provide security. Not that your pea brain will ever understand.Recommend

  • Rawalpindi Kid
    Feb 8, 2016 - 11:39PM

    Another negative minded comment. Where do you think the funds that Malala and Sharmeen generate are spent? In USA or UK? No, they are spent to help victims and girls in muslim countries. Malala has set up scores of schools for girls in Pakistan, Syria, Africa etc. You won’t know because you are blind in your hatred against the west. Shameful really.Recommend

  • Sunny
    Feb 10, 2016 - 12:44AM

    No comments!!!!!Recommend

  • Hasan
    Mar 3, 2016 - 9:20PM

    The recent attention given to Pakistan by the civilised world, in the form of recognition to a brave few who spoke of reforming the human decay in Pakistani society, has manifested in the negative mindset of a vast majority in Pakistani Society coming to the surface.
    It is ironical that those heaping scorn on to messengers like Sharmeen, Malala & Mukhtaran Mai for bringing so called “shame” to Pakistani Society are inadvertently admitting their own guilt that what is being talked about is in fact “shameful”.
    Could it be that our society is misunderstanding the concept of shame? If so it is most tragic. Sharmeen or Mukhtaran Mai did not bring any shame to Pakistan by talking about honor killing and rape. That shame was brought upon by those people in Pakistan who committed these crimes against humanity. It is brave of Sharmeen & Mukhtaran Mai to stand up to such criminals and the only way to do that is to talk about it, instead of remaining silent.
    I believe Sharmeen’s work is not done yet. One of her next projects should be titled “SHAME” and the documentary should exemplify what that word means and how to deal with it. Whether it is the perpetrator of a crime who is shameful or, is the victim shameful simply for talking about the crime.
    Perhaps if Pakistani Society can come to understand what “shame” means, we will appreciate what “courage” means.Recommend

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