“Cinema for Change” – Addressing Violence Against Women

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The South Asian Film Education Society (S.A.F.E.S.) hosted its first “Cinema for Change” film festival from April 19 to April 21, 2013. The theme: “Addressing Violence Against Women.”

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Guest Filmmaker, Samar Minallah, appeared at the opening night by Skype from Pakistan. Her documentary, “Swara: A Bridge Over Troubled Water,” looked at “swara,” the practice of using unmarried girls as compensation to settle disputes between families.  The practice of “swara” in the film of the same name, typically takes place as follows. One man kills another man and the family of the man who has been killed wants compensation from the murderer. The compensation takes the form of a girl, transferred from the family of the murderer to the family who would otherwise seek revenge. The girl is then expected to live in the “other” family as a daughter-in-law.

The practice of “swara” is well-known in North-West Pakistan and in other tribal communities and stopping it, Minallah admits, can be dangerous. The murderer (whose family pays the girl as compensation) is “let off the hook;” stopping that compensation would mean that the murderer must otherwise pay for his crime which, Minallah notes he will typically go to any lengths to avoid. Although Minallah acknowledges the challenges in fighting “swara,” she has helped bring awareness of the issue to the public and to policymakers through short public service-announcements. She also works to sensitive the police to the problem after the practice was made illegal through legislation passed in 2004. A growing number cases of “swara” moreover are being reported and addressed through public interest-litigation (200 cases were reported in 2011).

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Saturday, April 20, 2013

The second day saw the screening of “Common Gender” (2012), a Bangladeshi activist-documentary on the life of the hijra (intersexual) community of Dhaka and the violence underlying the social process of gendering. The two other films were “Afghanistan Unveiled” (2007) and “Provoked” (2006).

The film “Provoked,” is based on the true story of Kiranjit Ahluwalia, a Punjabi woman in the United Kingdom who was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of her husband in 1989. Her conviction was set aside in 1992, partly through the help of the women’s advocacy and outreach group, Southhall Black Sisters. The judge noted that because of years of  abuse, Kiranjit suffered severe depression and battered women syndrome; her mental responsibility for the act was thus “diminished.” She had also been “provoked,” but was unable to retaliate right away because of her mental state. Her case (R v. Ahluwalia) changed English law, leading to the setting aside of convictions for battered women in 1992 and thereafter.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

In “Saving Face,” we hear the stories of two survivors of acid attacks in Pakistan, Zakia and Rukshana. While highlighting the brutality of the attacks and their affect on the women, we see how the problem is being fought through cooperation between reconstructive surgeons, policymakers, lawyers, the media and NGO’s is key in bringing perpetrators to justice and helping women rebuild their lives.

In “Bol” (2012) Meghna Halder presents a short-film in three parts through masks, puppetry and shadows. Whereas the “The Cyclist” looks at the facelessness of the Indian Muslim woman who died in a bomb blast in Bangalore, “The Rape” looks at how two women went missing in Kashmir and were presumed to have been raped and disposed of by the Indian Army. In “The Mask,” Meghna presents the story of a man who wakes one day to find his face has been stolen. All three films were layered with meanings, teasing one’s interpretations.

While the issue of violence against women is ongoing and oftentimes distressing, I admire the filmmakers’ use of film as a medium for raising social awareness of the problem. In Minallah, we saw an example of the activist film-maker who has continued to make films despite risk to herself. In three films, we saw how individual and community activism can bring about social change such as the passage of law against “swara” and acid-attacks in Pakistan or the precedent-setting case of Kiranjit Ahluwalia in the United Kingdom. While the struggle continues, the SAFES has hopefully played its own part in presenting “cinema for change.”

For a list of all films shown and descriptions, go to: http://southasianfilm.blogspot.ca/

2 comments on ““Cinema for Change” – Addressing Violence Against Women

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