Saba’s was a unique story because she wanted to fight, say A Girl In The River filmmakers

Published 13 Apr, 2016 11:00am

Xari Jalil

At a screening, the filmmakers discussed factors surrounding honour killing in Pakistan

At a screening, the filmmakers discussed factors surrounding honour killing in Pakistan
At a screening, the filmmakers discussed factors surrounding honour killing in Pakistan

LAHORE: Thaap and Society for Cultural Education held the screening of Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy’s Oscar winning documentary A Girl in the River.

A panel discussion followed the screening where panelists were: gender studies expert Dr Fariha Zafar, Sualeha Qureshi and Wasif Arshad (both worked on the film with Chinoy) and set designer Tanvir Fatima Rehman.

The film follows the story of Saba who survived an honour killing attack.

Ms Qureshi, speaking about the idea, said Ms Chinoy had followed the story published in newspapers.

“It's an important topic in the country and many of us have grown up reading about Karo Kari,” she said. “Sharmeen and her film company always choose socially important subjects to work on. Saba’s was a unique story because she wanted to fight, but her family, especially her father, who was quite egotistical till the end wanted to tell his side of the story as well.”


“Karo kari is not just an issue of poverty, or the male being a sole breadwinner, or large families. Many aspects and angles lead towards honour killing and one of the main ones is that this is a custom and social tradition emerging out of the lack of identity and power a woman has.”


Ms Qureshi, who has studied law, says that because of the Qisas and Diyat law which follows Islamic traditions (not Islamic jurisprudence) allows for forgiving a murder, resulting in convenience for those who are involved in premeditated murders, such as honour killings.

“A murder is a murder but in Sharia law your religion is public and not personal. Forgiveness by a kin is accepted. Patriarchy enables the law to be misused and basically a culture of violence is enabled, permeating through more than our state. It’s a mindset.” She said no one had bothered to ask the woman if she wanted to forgive her father and uncle, or she was under pressure by community elders.

The film closely follows the characters of Saba, her in-laws and her parents without any reenactments.

Mr Arshad shared the making of the documentary.

“We kept our team very small so that building a relationship with the family (of Saba) is easier,” he said.

“We had to visit the family about 10 to 15 times so they would get comfortable with the camera and like all documentaries we had a lot of footage. About 80 hours of footage was later edited to cut out at least 40 hours. We often faced problems like getting permission for the courtroom, but we had to work around that. We did not use any tripods, because we had to walk with the characters and used only natural light.”

Dr Zafar said that in the Pakistan a woman’s body did not really belong to her. Patriarchy meant the woman was a mere commodity and could be bought or sold, compensated with and by repressing the woman’s sexuality the woman herself could be controlled. In a way the woman’s body and sexuality also held the family’s and community’s honour and that way she was important but she had no identity of her own.

“Karo kari is not just an issue of poverty, or the male being a sole breadwinner, or large families. Many aspects and angles lead towards honour killing and one of the main ones is that this is a custom and social tradition emerging out of the lack of identity and power a woman has.”

She said some laws were made by the British that made official the social norms, while many other social traditions were established by Ziaul Haq.

Qisas and Diyat allows for forgiveness and by this the murder is not a crime against the State anymore it is only a crime against the family of the victim.

“Anything that needs change goes through the CII for approval so very little positive change can be expected, especially regarding such issues,” she added. “But a change in the curriculum is badly needed to change the mindset of future generations.”

Mr Qureshi added that if a murderer involving honour killing was convicted, they would only be given five years imprisonment, while punishment for a murder in Pakistan was death sentence.


Originally published in Dawn, April 13th, 2016