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March 7, 2016

Honour killings: Chinoy’s film and light at the end of the tunnel


March 7, 2016

Activists say perpetrators, usually a family member of the victim,are forgiven under laws of Diyat and Qasas


The onset of March, a month associated with women, brought about positive vibes as filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy bagged Pakistan’s second Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject) for her film, “A Girl in the River — Price of Forgiveness”, pertaining to honour killings in the country.

This wisp of fresh air was able to rouse Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif before the accolade was given to Chinoy as he held a private screening and asserted that “there was no honour in honour killing”.

Civil society and human rights activists lauded the filmmaker’s work and called it a beacon of hope for women who could be killed by their family, usually male members, if they defied them in any way.

Zohra Yusuf, the chairperson of the Human Rights Commission Pakistan, was optimistic that Chinoy’s work would bring about a change and women would eventually take a stand, but did not foresee speedy action by the State: “I think overall I’d say it is encouraging, it makes you feel optimistic but in Pakistan there is always a question of the enforcement of law, because laws are made but they’re often not enforced,” she observed.

Mehnaz Rehman, a representative of the Aurat Foundation, also echoed Yusuf’s words and reminded that the civil society had been trying to bring the issue into the spotlight for the last 30 years:

“It’s a positive sign that women are working in such areas and now more be encouraged in their respective fields to gain recognition,” she noted.

“We also know that civil society has been working for the past 30 years toward the same cause and this led to people taking the issue seriously enough to make films. The platform via which she [Chinoy] worked also raised awareness because there are many who refuse to believe that pressing issues like honour killings exist. But when a powerful medium is used to bring it to the forefront, we congratulate her. We think such issues should be highlighted by the electronic media.”

Rehman added that global recognition was not solely a triumph for women but it was a moment of pride for entire Pakistan.


Diyat and Qasas

Although Chinoy is hopeful about her struggle translating into legislative measures, the existing law appears to have loopholes which benefit the perpetrator involved in an honour killing instead of providing justice to the victim.

Activists and lawmakers alike question the writ of state when the Islamic laws of Diyat and Qasas are supplemented with the law criminalising honour killing.

In March 2015, the Senate had unanimously passed a bill declaring the crime as non-compoundable yet the need to delve deeper into the religious narrative is still present. Yusuf believes that along with the implementation of law, amendments are also needed.

“As far as incidence of honour killing is concerned, the problem lies in the law of Qasas and Diyat that we have. Even in the case of this woman in the film, Saba, who was shot and thrown in the river by her father and uncle, ultimately forgave them,” said Yusuf.

“So because of this law, the perpetrator, who is usually a family member, is forgiven by the woman’s family and there’s really no justice — no one is convicted or punished, that is something the prime minister needs to look into.  They’ll certainly have to look into the loophole which allows the convict to get away and introduce some amendments in the law,” she added.

Rehman noted that the involvement of Islamic laws in the laws of honour killing complicated the matters further as the offenders went free after being pardoned: “Since the beginning, we have been demanding that the component of Diyat should be removed from the law because honour killing is not linked to Islam and there’s no point of applying it in the law. The killers and pardoners become synonymous in this regard, hence the law becomes nullified.”

Nazish Brohi, a researcher and activist, said laws concerning women were usually taken in a negative light by individuals, whose opinion did not reflect that of the overall society. "Since Nafisa Shah first reported on honour killings in the mainstream media in the early 1990s, women’s movements have been working on addressing the issue, and over the years, there have been incremental moves forward."

"For instance in the Samia Sarwar case, the Senate refused to even debate over it, sanctifying honour crimes on the ground of culture. Now, it has been highlighted enough that the parliament has discussed the issue and condemned it, Chinoy made her documentary, non-governmental organisations are running advocacy campaigns, police have started taking the issue seriously, and now the prime minister has spoken out." 

"The problem lies, of course, in Qisas and Diyat and the issue of heirs forgiving the perpetrator. But, at least, we have recognised the issue now and that is a critical step before moving towards solutions."


Demonising the winner

Although it was Chinoy who brought the first Academy Award to Pakistan, she faced the brunt at the hands of many right-wingers who also criticised her on her second victory. While some clerics took a notch further by name-calling, there were some who wanted her to portray the country in a positive light. Amid all the disparagement, not only did Chinoy emerge to be a winner, a bill guaranteeing safety against all kinds of violence against women was also passed in the province of Punjab.    

Yusuf lamented that this vicious trend had been there since the beginning but both events were indeed optimistic.

“Unfortunately in Pakistan, Pakistanis who bring honour, particularly honour in the West, are run down by other Pakistanis, and this happened last time as well when she [Chinoy] won her first Oscar,” Yusuf observed.

“There are still media personnel and religious figures saying that she [Chinoy] brought disgrace to Pakistan. Also in the case of Malala Yousafzai we keep hearing that she is defaming Pakistan although I think we should be really proud of her.

It is encouraging that the government stuck to its position and I hope this trend continues because in the past we have had governments who gave in to the demands of religious parties.”

Using the ostrich analogy, Rehman believed that those trying to defame Chinoy had indeed buried their heads in the sand and were unwillingly to face the problems at hand. While she is positive about the legislation in Punjab, she regretted that a similar bill passed in Sindh still had to be enforced properly.

“Sindh was the first province to pass such a bill but it hasn’t been implemented yet; there are no rules of business, and protection and action committees are yet to be formed,” she added.

Brohi, too, voiced a strong opinion over the matter, stating, "Clerics are criticising this bill, like they’ve criticised and attacked anything in the past that protected women against violence.

Even the Muslim Family Personal Laws, passed as far back as the 60s, periodically come under attack by them.

They are a vocal minority and create a racket, often basing their entire politics on curtailing women’s rights.” 

 “Those who think her [Chinoy's] documentary shows a negative side of Pakistan need to understand that discussing problems indicates the democratic health of a country and the importance of having a system that promises justice.

Violence happens everywhere in the world - what sets countries aside is how they respond to it. It’s denying and dismissing violation of women’s rights that make us look bad.

She [Chinoy] makes a documentary and the prime minister in response affirms his support for dealing with the issue – that’s a positive thing.”

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