“Because they had sworn on the Quran, I had no fear in my heart”
When you read that Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy‘s documentary short A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness concerns a Pakistani girl shot and left for dead who survived to become a beacon of strength and bravery, do not simply dismiss it as “just like Malala Yousafzai.” While similarities do exist, the two couldn’t be farther apart in their contextual meaning above serving as two examples that prove women are treated as worse than second-lass citizens around the world. Malala is an educated activist who was targeted by an ignorant stranger years after she began her crusade. Saba Qaiser—Obaid-Chinoy’s subject—on-the-other-hand is a nineteen-year old who was kidnapped and taken to a shallow river by her father and uncle as the would-be victim of an honor killing.
Yes, an honor killing. The concept is laughable to an American, an incongruous oxymoron that shouldn’t exist as a phrase in any way, shape, or form. Surprisingly, some in Pakistan agree as evidenced by criminal investigator Ali Akbar, the policeman in charge of the crime scene where Saba miraculously rose from the water to flag down help at a near-by gas station. To him this was attempted murder, the predator being a family member only making matters worse despite some in Saba’s village deluding themselves into believing it justifies the act. He hopes a woman survivor of such an atrocity will prosecute her assailant and force him to rot in jail. The issue sadly proves impossibly complex once we realize how justice is often upheld outside the courts.
Obaid-Chinoy’s film depicts Saba’s ordeal from her cheek getting stitched back together to the present sense of “safety” after the drama’s insanely backwards journey finishes. We hear her continuously explain how she’ll never forgive her father and uncle for what they did and know it to be truth, but that’s merely the human element of this reality. There’s a political one too, one of which community elders (all male) expertly hide behind passages in the Quran seemingly giving their Y-chromosome absolute power. Listening to Saba’s father’s justification for his actions is to fear for mankind because his mind is a scary machine to fathom. But don’t let it condone bigots calling Islam evil. This film does well to show man as villain, twisting religion for his whims.
What’s worse is that very little can be done since the country’s laws allow it. Prosecuting the guilty in Pakistan for a crime like honor killing—wherein the family murders a female member causing its name “disrespect” to the tune of one thousand-plus victims per year—is actually the worst thing survivors can do. The village wants peace and its men want power. Prosecute and you will be disrespected. Compromise and you will be forgiven for your so-called transgression. While the latter is the closest thing to securing your not being assaulted again, however, it also legitimizes the assailants’ actions. Suddenly it becomes community-sanctioned to reclaim your honor through murder: kill and earn a reprieve. God may intervene on the girl’s behalf, but you’ve done no harm.
A film like this angers you past the threshold of common sense. It angers you because it forces your acknowledgment of living in a world where places still exist that hold some lives less precious than others. It opens your eyes to the travesties happening internationally, but also those within your own borders. There’s unfortunately a culture in the Muslim community that breeds disgusting habits in those broken enough to embrace them. But that isn’t the religion’s fault. As Saba says, her father swearing on the Quran assuaged her fears. He blasphemed. He wasn’t killing in Allah’s name; he was killing in his own. And every time some lunatic in America does harm to an innocent Muslim citizen, it’s the same. Murder is murder—nothing should be simpler.
A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness debuts on HBO in March, 2016.
courtesy of Shorts HD