Working ahead of the curve

By Maheen Aziz
Tue, 04, 20

This week You! talks to documentary filmmaker Samar Minallah, who talks about her work and her truck art campaign which started in KPK…


Born in Haripur district, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Samar Minallah is a documentary filmmaker and anthropologist who has an M.Phil in Anthropology and Development from the University of Cambridge. She has directed and produced numerous documentaries by visualising true stories that comment over the norms and rituals of society to initiate a debate. “I used to write research based stories for newspapers and magazines in Pakistan. They focused on the lives of rural women and girls and how harmful cultural practices impacted their lives. Since, the articles were written in English, the readership was very limited. I wanted to reach out to the rural audience. That is when I switched to the visual medium and started making documentaries in local and regional languages to reach out to a wider audience,” shares Samar.

Samar Minallah

Samar is the shining star of Pakistan who strives to go against the grains and serve the society with her promising documentaries on human and women rights, and uses different platforms like truck art to deliver the right message to the masses...

You! What motivated you to start the truck art campaign?

SM: As an anthropologist, I have always been inspired by the positive side of our culture – the crafts, indigenous art and so on. It is one of the most treasured forms of indigenous art that must be preserved and encouraged. It was because of several meetings with truck artists and owners in KPK that I was able to get the first truck painted with a message regarding early marriages. It was brave of them to let me try out this idea from that particular workshop. Now, many truck artists and owners recognise the importance of this concept and want their trucks to be painted with the same messages and images. I blended my activism and love of this art.

You! Do truck artists agree on making such art as they belong to places where women are subjugated?

SM: It was heartening to work with truck artists in remote areas like Kohistan where girls hardly go to school. We painted trucks which moved on the mountains with empowering visuals of little girls with books in their hands. I have worked on a campaign for girl child that was done in collaboration with the Ministry of Human Rights. We even managed to give the helpline on the trucks. Apart from the artists, this was made possible by the help of Aurat Foundation’s ‘MeraGhar Project’, ADB’s ‘Legal Literacy for Women’ and UNESCO Pakistan who had their trusted me to try out this medium for advocacy.

You! Did you face any hurdles while working on this campaign?

SM: It has been a very difficult campaign as I had to convince the truck artists, the owners, the truck workshop owners. But now that the idea has been executed, it has become easier for others to follow. Moreover, the challenge is when your work and idea are plagiarised and are not acknowledged. Surprisingly, I have seen educated people in Pakistan getting away with blatant plagiarism. Some do it in the name of ‘Artivism’ whereas some merely for awards.

You! How helpful your documentaries are in changing people’s perception?

SM: My first documentary, ‘Swara - The Jwand Mairman’ was on the custom of giving girls, often minor as compensation to end disputes. I filmed it in the tribal areas of KPK to record testimonies of girls and women who were victims and survivors. The film was then used for advocacy with the lawmakers in the region to fight for legislation. It was also used as evidence in the first ever hearing in the Supreme Court of Pakistan in 2004. I was one of the petitioners and was helped by a competent legal team. The case helped in saving more than 100 girls who were being forced into compensation marriages decreed by jirgas and panchayats. Consequently, the custom of Swara was made illegal in 2004 when finally an amendment was made in the Pakistan Penal Code. Now, whoever demands or gives girls in compensation can be arrested for 3 to 7 years. Another documentary titled ‘Poles Apart’ was filmed in Europe and Punjab to highlight the dark side of marriages amongst the diaspora community. The film is being used in the South Asian community based organisations for advocacy.

You! Which project of yours is close to your heart?

SM: My first documentary. An 11-year-old girl from Matta, Swat shared her helplessness in front of the camera. That was when I decided to use her voice and the film itself for a tangible change; a change that is lasting.

You! How do you see Pakistan for women?

SM: We are made to believe we respect women. Unfortunately, women aren’t respected as a human being. They are judged for everything. In rural areas, they are still being murdered in the name of honour, bartered as swara, sang chatti, irjaai, wattasatta andsar paisa. Also, women are still being stigmatised for demanding their right in inheritance – a right given to them by Islam.

You! What do you think women parliamentarians are doing about women issues?

SM: It is worrying that in this day and age we cannot make child marriages illegal except in Sindh. It is a pity that Domestic Violence Bill is not being passed. However, we can’t blame the parliamentarians alone.

You! What current projects are you working on?

SM: Several designing campaigns on children and women rights.

You! A message for ourreaders?

SM: We cannot call ourselves civilised until we acknowledge the rights of others.

You! What would you say about the current human rights situation in Pakistan?

SM: We need to focus more on prevention., children are unsafe in their own homes, streets and communities. Why is our society in a state of denial? Zainab’s rapist in Kasur and now Madiha’s rapist in Hangu were people who they knew. In order to save our children in madrassas, streets, communities and homes, we must first acknowledge the issue. Moreover, violence against women continues to go unabated in the rural areas where jirgas continue to ‘uphold’ justice whose decisions continue to violate constitution in the name of dispute resolution.