“Pakistan can solve its problems if it wants to,” says Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, the first woman of Pakistani origin to win an Oscar. The co-director of “Saving Face”, which won the Academy Award for the Best Documentary (short subject) this year for bringing the issue of acid violence in the open, is in India to participate in the ongoing Habitat Film Festival where “Saving Face” was screened this past Monday.
“It is not just the story of two acid attack survivors, Zakia and Rukhsana. It is also the story of the lawyer who fights their cases, parliamentarians who drafted and got the Bill passed in Parliament, the doctor who comes back to his homeland to serve the people. And it is as much the story of a woman like me, who is a product of Pakistan and who decided to tell the story. From all sides it is a story of hope because it goes on to show that despite problems, there are people who are addressing those problems. And that is the narrative you never hear.”
Ms. Chinoy says these women wanted to share their stories because they wanted others to realise what happens to women when acid is thrown on their face. “Acid attack in Pakistan is like stove burnings in India where families are involved…mother-in-law, husband, sister-in-law. At times it is a matter of honour and at others it stems from domestic violence. I believe the causes are very similar in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Zakia’s husband threw acid on her when she asked for divorce as he wanted to present her as a namoona (example).”
Ms. Chinoy feels the behaviour stems from ignorance but agrees it exists in higher echelons of society too. “Southern Punjab has the highest level of unemployment, lowest level of literacy and women don’t press charges against men because most times the man comes from the family itself.
Like India, she agrees, it is not always a family member. “I met a young woman who was attacked for spurning the proposal of a man. His logic was if I can’t have you nobody should have you.”
Ms. Chinoy notes, “It is not easy to teach people who lived in darkness what is light all about. When a society changes, it is easier for material change to take place. Mental change takes time.”
Her co-director Daniel Junge wanted to follow the story of British-Pakistani doctor Mohammad Jawad.
“He came to Pakistan to shoot but quickly realised that he needed a partner to work with him,” relates the Emmy Award winner. Interestingly, while Zakia decided to fight the case, Rukhsana decided to go back to her husband. “She has had another child with her husband. We wanted to show solutions do exist if you decide to fight. Rukhsana felt for the betterment of her children she would live with her husband.”
There were charges of Ms. Chinoy offering Rukhsana money to come on camera. “We saw the problem as it is and documented it. Her husband Yasir has been manipulating her to get money. I have worked with her for over a year and I know how manipulative he is. It is sad but she has allowed this to happen.”
Hailing the present government, Ms. Chinoy says, “This government has passed four landmark Bills in favour of women’s rights. Their implementation is a separate conversation but the very fact they have come into being is a way forward.”
Praising Mr. Pervez Musharraf’s regime for reserving seats in Parliament for women, Ms. Chinoy, who is now working on a film on transgenders in Pakistan, says: “Right now the number of women who come through quota outnumber the women who come through general seats but at least there are women discussing issues in Parliament.”