Os­car-honored film de­ployed against tragic Pak­istani rite

USA TODAY US Edition - - NEWS - Naila Inayat

Four years ago, an on­line wed­ding video that went vi­ral cost three of Afzal Ko­his­tani’s brothers their lives.

The video showed two brothers danc­ing as women clapped at a wed­ding party in a north­ern Pak­istan vil­lage. A coun­cil of el­ders is­sued a death sen­tence against the pair, as well as four women and a 12year-old girl. Their crime: bring­ing dis­honor on their fam­i­lies by vi­o­lat­ing a strict lo­cal code against men and women min­gling.

Rel­a­tives of the women could not find the two brothers, who went into hid­ing, so they killed three of Ko­his­tani’s other brothers — along with the women and girl. “In th­ese last four years, there hasn’t been a sin­gle day when I haven’t asked the ques­tion, ‘What did they do wrong?’ ” said Ko­his­tani, 27.

Peo­ple world­wide may be ask­ing sim­i­lar ques­tions af­ter a Pak­istani film won an Os­car on Sun­day for best doc­u­men­tary short sub­ject. A Girl in the River by Sharmeen Obaid-Chi­noy tells of Pak­istani teenager Saba Qaiser, who sur­vived an honor killing at­tempt at the hands of her father and un­cle af­ter she mar­ried against their wishes.

Around 500 peo­ple, mostly women and girls, died in honor killings last year, usu­ally for al­leged in­fi­delity and re­fus­ing to sub­mit to ar­ranged mar­riages, ac­cord­ing to the Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion of Pak­istan.

Women’s rights ac­tivists say the ac­tual num­ber of vic­tims in ortho­dox Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ties is far higher than of­fi­cially re­ported.

“So-called ‘honor killings’ take place in vir­tu­ally ev­ery part of Pak­istan, ur­ban or ru­ral, de­vel­oped or un­der­de­vel­oped, all so­cial classes, castes, eth­nic­i­ties, sects,” said Ru­bina Saigol, a rights ac­tivist in La­hore.

Saigol said many “honor killings” are re­ally about some­thing

else. “Honor is sim­ply the ex­cuse used to cover up the crime, which is of­ten for seiz­ing prop­erty and set­tling eco­nomic and other dis­putes,” she said.

A Girl in the River prompted Pak­istani of­fi­cials to claim they are re­dou­bling ef­forts to end the prac­tice. “There is no honor in honor killing,” Prime Min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif said at a screen­ing of the film at his of­fice last week.

Obaid-Chi­noy pre­vi­ously won an Os­car and two Emmy awards for doc­u­men­taries about the Pak­istani Tal­iban and acid at­tacks against women. “This is what hap­pens when de­ter­mined women get to­gether,” Obaid-Chi­noy said in her ac­cep­tance speech Sun­day night.

At the Feb. 22 screen­ing, she said the prac­tice flouts Is­lamic tra­di­tions that re­vere women.

Asma Ja­hangir, a hu­man rights at­tor­ney in La­hore, cred­its au­thor­i­ties for be­ing more ag­gres­sive in pros­e­cut­ing honor killing cases than 15 years ago. “In the past, political par­ties and the ju­di­ciary jus­ti­fied honor killings, but no longer,” said Ja­hangir. “The laws have been strength­ened but so­cial be­hav­iors are dif­fi­cult to change.”

A 2014 case that gar­nered in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion shows how in­grained honor killings are. Farzana Parveen, 30 and preg­nant, was stoned to death by her father and other male rel­a­tives for mar- ry­ing the man she loved in­stead of her cousin. The men were sen­tenced to death for the killing.

Yet an un­cle de­fended the act. “It is the pre­rog­a­tive of the men in the fam­ily to de­cide the fu­ture of their daugh­ter,” said Khalid Muneed, who did not par­tic­i­pate in the ston­ing. “This is what dif­fer­en­ti­ates us from the West.”

In the wed­ding video case, a court sen­tenced one killer to death and five oth­ers to life in prison for the mur­ders of Ko­his­tani’s three brothers. No­body has been brought to jus­tice for the deaths of the women, whose bod­ies have not been found.


Pak­istani Prime Min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif, speak­ing in Is­lam­abad at a screen­ing Feb. 22 of A Girl in the River: The Price of For

give­ness, vowed that Pak­istan would erad­i­cate “evil” honor killings, the topic of the film. At top, Sharmeen Obaid-Chi­noy ac­cepts the Os­car for best doc­u­men­tary short sub­ject Sun­day.

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