Giving a true wake-up call to parents who, in an effort to maintain their links with ancestral homes, force their children in compromise marriages, the Sungi Development Foundation launched Samar Minallah’s latest documentary ‘Poles Apart: Chains do not keep Marriages Together’ at the Pakistan National Council of the Arts on Thursday.
Supported by Norwegian Embassy, the 30-minute short film highlights different aspects of marriages that are forced upon girls for social and cultural reasons. The film focuses on certain regions of Punjab from where a large number people have immigrated to Europe.
The documentary is aimed at spreading awareness around the issue of forced marriages in Pakistan. It focuses on specified forms of forced marriages that are practiced among the Diaspora in order to maintain links with their roots or other social or cultural reasons.
“This issue remains invisible because we do not talk about it. It affects the whole life of a girl or a boy who marries under duress against their will and consent,” said Samar Minallah in her introductory remarks. She termed this project as one of the most difficult issues she has worked on so far as it was very hard to find people willing to share their personal experiences. “It is not about good or bad. It is about mental barriers, mental mismatch that keeps two individuals poles apart. It is about marriages that are used to pave the way to reach certain goals,” said Samar.
Shot in Oslo, Jhelum, Gujrat and Lalamusa, the documentary not only brings forth the voices of women who were given in forced marriages, but also highlights the fact that men can also become the victims of such practices.
In the documentary, Khurran describes his ordeal of forced marriage with his cousin. “Our differences started to surface within the first few days. I am a man and wanted to be near her. She would not let me touch her. I ignored it. Despite that, she caused immense torture. She left me. And I don’t know what she told everyone back home. There is so much distance in between,” he said.
He said that everyone talks about the sufferings of women.” Why they forget that men are also the victims,” said Khurram from Jhelum.
Like many other untold stories, the documentary tells what happened to Fizla, a citizen of Norway, when she came to spent holidays with her grandmother in Pakistan when she was only 17. She became a victim of a classic case of emotional blackmail.
“I was pursuing my dreams of higher education. I was working to pay for my studies. On holiday in Pakistan with my grandmother I had this strange experience. Two families had reconciled their differences and wanted to be united through a marriage just like in the movies. The other family wanted my hand in marriage. I thought this must be a joke. One day we went to their house and everything was ready for my engagement,” recalled Fizla in the documentary. She got married and stayed in that relationship for 12 years and got separated when things became unbearable.
The documentary tells that girls settled abroad are married usually before 18 as after that, parents can not legally force them to do anything. “My father was afraid that I might get married to a Norwegian man. So maybe that is why he got me married off early. That’s because over here at the age of eighteen one can make ones own decisions,” said another survivor of an abusive forced marriage Asiya in Oslo. She stayed in the marriage for 21 years but opted for divorce when her husband started behaving the same way with the children. “My husband was the suspicious sort. He would stand outside my work place and keep calling me up all day. He would drive me to the work place. It was a good job. I lost it because of all this. I stopped wearing western clothes and tried to do as he told me. I even gave up my friends to please him,” said Asiya who now lives with her children independently.
The documentary ended with the motivating story of Khadija from Jehlum who dared to return back to Pakistan after enduring an abusive relationship with her husband for seven years. Now she teaches driving to young girls of Jehlum besides spreading a message of courage and resilience that the world never ends after a mishap.
The chief guest on the occasion was Senator Suriyya Amiruddin. In her remarks, she stressed to educate women. She said that the government has passed laws to protect women from forced marriages. She urged Samar to make a documentary to create awareness on the sexual abuse of boys at the bus stops in major cities.