Oscar nominated Director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy has a question that she wants her government and her society to answer: “Why does honor rest with women, why can’t it rest with men?”
Obaid-Chinoy is a documentary filmmaker who has painstakingly followed a case of attempted murder that society condoned in her native Pakistan. “A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness” is a brutally honest look at the practice of so-called honor killings.
“To me honor killing is premeditated, cold-blooded murder but the justification given by men when they kill a woman is that she did something without permission, or that is out of bounds of what society deems is okay for a woman,” Obaid-Chinoy said.
Obaid-Chinoy’s film tells the story of a young woman named Sabha.
“18-year-old Sabha was engaged to a young man named Qaisar and was about to get married and her uncle opposed the wedding. So she had to run away and get married to him in a court,” Obaid-Chinoy said.
Her father and uncle are accused of trying to kill her because they believed the unsanctioned marriage brought shame on the family.
“They took her to a wooded forest, shot her, put her in a gurney bag and threw her into a river and she miraculously survived,” Obaid-Chinoy said.
Killing women in the name of honor happens across the world. In Pakistan alone, rights groups estimate 1,000 women lose their lives to that particular brand of murder each year. While the practice is illegal in many places including Pakistan, it is under reported and still seen by too many in society as a way to restore honor.
“At the end of the film the father when he is released from jail says now his stature in society has become much higher,” Obaid-Chioy said. Sabha’s mother and sister said “what does she expect” for her actions.
‘Society must change’
Obeid-Chinoy’s telling of the story has garnered her an Oscar nomination but she wants far more than a golden statue.
“What I wanted to do was start a national discourse because right now people don’t think that an honor killing is a crime. People are so rarely jailed and we have this rule of forgiveness which allows the murderers to eventually walk free if their victims forgive them,” Obaid-Chiony said.
The Oscar nominated film has now been watched by Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who vowed action saying: “There is no honor in honor killing, in fact there can be nothing more degrading than to engage in brutal murder and to refer to it as honor.”
Obaid-Chinoy applauded his strong words but she wants more.
She says stronger laws and enforcement are what will save the women of Pakistan from a brutal practice that has no honor it in whatsoever.