Director praised after film, which tackles topic of acid attacks against women, is honoured at the 84th Academy awards.
Only days after Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy accepted her Academy Award for best short subject documentary for A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness highlighting Pakistan’s honour killing epidemic, the killings continued.
In Lahore, Mohammad Rehmat killed his 18-year-old daughter after she failed to tell him where she had been for five hours. The next day in the village of Noorshah, Mohammad Asif shot his two sisters because “he doubted their characters and was against their lifestyle”.
Obaid-Chinoy’s documentary is not only a voice for these poor souls, it is also a testament to how film can pave the way for social change in a country where culture and religion can be used to victimise women rather than empower them. Unfortunately, for many Pakistanis, bringing awareness to foment change is still considered a cardinal sin.
Honour killings in Pakistan are more common than one might assume. The Pakistan Human Rights Commission 2014 annual report states that more than 3,000 women (PDF) have died in so-called honour killings in Pakistan since 2008. The Aurat Foundation, a rights group in the country puts estimates even higher and maintains that these incidents claim the lives of 1,000 women every year.
A 2011 study (PDF) by the the Aurat Foundation found that The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2004, otherwise known as the “Honour Killings Act” that makes so-called honour killings punishable by law did little to decrease the incidence of such crimes.
A large part of that is due to the lack of knowledge about the law itself that cuts across the entire spectrum from lawyers, media and civil society to the police. Those who are familiar with the law do not possess the will to enforce it given the societal acceptance of honour killings in remote parts of Pakistan.
What is more concerning is that honour killings are part of the family custom, where scores are settled in tribal councils, and undue pressure is placed on family patriarchs to punish women who are unwilling to conform. In perhaps the most fatal loophole, as Obaid-Chinoy’s film demonstrates, victims are often forced to forgive their perpetrators through family pressure and justice remains elusive.
Obaid-Chinoy's crime was to de-cloak and bare the scars of a part of Pakistan that is shrouded in darkness. Her felony was to expose elements of Pakistani society that use religion and culture to subject women to brutal atrocities.
Certain Pakistanis stating #WeDisownSharmeen on social media after her Oscar win and calling on others to do the same may be understandable given general Muslim distrust towards the West.
The West’s common yet mistaken monolithic depiction of Islam, countless wars in the Muslim world including drone strikes in Pakistan, and constant demand for anti-Islamic “pseudo-experts” who push an anti-Islam agenda but are promoted as legitimate experts, contributes to this distrust.
Obaid-Chinoy’s Canadian nationality further casts her as an outsider who is airing Pakistan’s “dirty laundry” in front of a Western audience that is more than eager to validate the shortcomings of the “uncivilized” and “barbaric” Muslim.
Although it may be understandable, shooting the messenger is never justifiable. Having the fortitude to look in the mirror and acknowledge societal flaws is the first step to correcting them.
Before disowning an award-winning Pakistani filmmaker who is attempting to save innocent lives, we should disown corrupt politicians who are quick to pass laws for votes but are unable to implement them.
We should disown the religious establishment which resists the protection of women’s rights because it threatens the status quo.
We should disown the perpetrators who believe that they can take the life of innocent women and religious minorities with impunity. Most importantly, we should disown the culture that promotes and encourages so-called honour killings as an act that protects honour.
Instead of looking the other way as our “dirty laundry” is aired in front of the international public, we must instead ask ourselves: Is our pride worth more than an innocent life? Shouldn’t our obvious shame propel us to eradicate this societal plague rather than target those who try to bring reform?
Obaid-Chinoy’s crime was to de-cloak and bare the scars of a part of Pakistan that is shrouded in darkness. Her felony was to expose elements of Pakistani society that use religion and culture to subject women to brutal atrocities.
Her offence was to speak out as a Pakistani woman and come to the defence of other women, thus shaking the very foundations of the patriarchal order that defines Pakistan today.
For this, Obaid-Chinoy does not deserve to be disowned. She deserves to be saluted.
Aurangzeb Qureshi is a writer and political commentator on Pakistan affairs, primarily on topics of social justice, civil rights and geopolitics.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.