`Pakistani women are progressive'
Pakistani director Sabiha Sumar speaks about the status of women in her country.
PAKISTANI DIRECTOR Sabiha Sumar is basking in the success of her debut feature film, `Khamosh Pani' (`Silent Waters').
The film, starring Kiron Kher, has been screened at several international festivals and won honours.
Sumar was in Thiruvananthapuram recently to present her film at the Eighth IFFK.
While she was a student at the Karachi Grammar School, she decided that she would to be a filmmaker.
"I used to watch director Jameel Dehalvi (now based in England) at work."
Sumar studied Persian literature at the University of Karachi. Later, she studied Filmmaking and Political Science at the Sarah Lawrence College, New York, and International Relations at Cambridge University.
Her first documentary, `Who will Cast the First Stone?'(1988), focusses on the implications of the Hudood Ordinances of 1979 enacted during the regime of General Zia-ul-Haq. "When Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was hanged by Gen. Zia, the entire nation was shocked."
Zia steered the country towards strict Islamic rule and banned political parties and introduced repressive laws such as the Hudood and Zina Ordinance, under which a woman could prove rape only if she provided four Muslim male witnesses. Without such proof, she faced imprisonment for adultery; the law declared that she be stoned to death. "Though these laws were enforced during Zia's rule, they have never been carried out in Pakistan."
Sumar's environmental film, `Custodians of the Coast' (1989), tackles the management of mangrove resources, while the documentary film, `Of Mothers, Mice and Saints' (1994), examines an interplay of superstition and patriarchy and its effect on childless women. It is a myth that the women in Pakistan lead cloistered lives, wear burqa and Hijab, are illiterate, have no freedom and are confined to the four walls of their home, Sumar says.
"The Karachi I grew up was a vibrant city, like Mumbai. Hijab is part of Islam and a way of life. Our women are progressive. Today, there are many involved in TV and film production." `Khamosh Pani' speaks about the abduction of women across the border during the Indo-Pak partition. "I was researching for a documentary in 1997 on the 50th anniversary of the Partition, when I stumbled across authentic references (the Recovery Act) to the abduction of women."
Individual initiatives for peace between India and Pakistan, explains Sumar, are important. But in the absence of political vision, all efforts are futile. "No attempt to strengthen the bond between the two nations will be effective unless it is collective."
Sumar is working on the script for her forthcoming film. Will it garner half a dozen awards this time as well? "Let's see," Sumar adds, with a smile.
Photo: S. Gopakumar
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