“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).

swara

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/

Religion-based Crimes in Pakistan

Religiously motivated crimes are escalating in Pakistan, and new threatening tones can be heard in the voices of religiously motivated criminals and their supporters. Ideas and actions that are in clear contradiction to the UN Charter of Human Rights are being openly propagated and executed; and, violence against women is unashamedly condoned by the elders and lawmakers.

No wonder, Pakistani rights activists and defenders are aghast at the spectrum.

Each religion and each religious grouping exists because its members think that the universal and ultimate truth resides ‘herein’, and the rest of the population is walking the ‘wrong’ path that needs to be ‘corrected’ for the universal good and for their own salvation in the ‘thereafter’. So, in a religious context, the most discriminatory, even violent, ideas and actions are justified, and then projected as admirable and rewarding acts. I was about to cite an example when i realized that i was choosing between the many violent incidents that have happened in Pakistan in the past couple of weeks. I wish to never find myself in a situation of such multiplicity again but clearly we have been furnished last Sunday with some of the classic examples of faith-based crimes by a TV anchor, Dr. Amir Liaquat Hussain in a religious program called ‘Alam (Scholar) Online’.

In a TV broadcast on 7 September 2008, this religious ‘scholar’ with two other cowards ‘declared’ that in accordance with Islamic teachings, the Ahmadi sect members are Wajib ul Qatal ‘Must be killed’ for not believing in the last prophet Mohammad PBUH.
‘Dr. Amir repeated his instruction several times, urging fundamentalists Muslims to kill without fear’. Within 18 hours, a 45 year-old Ahmadi leader in Mirpur Khas, Dr. Abdul Manan Siddiqui was executed with 11 gun shots by six people; he ‘died on the spot’. His private guard and a woman sustained injuries. The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) notes
The killers remained at the hospital until the doctor was declared dead, then they walked out of the building’s front entrance. Police registered the killers as unknown‘.
On September 9, Mr. Yousaf, a 75 year-old rice trader and district chief of the Ahmadi sect was killed on his way to the prayer house in Nawab Shah, Sindh.
Yousaf was fired on from people on motor bikes, and sustained three bullet wounds. He died on the way to the hospital. The assailants had taken a route past a police station. No one was arrested‘.
PAKISTAN: TV Anchor Incites Murders of Two People

This is happening amidst threats of acid attacks on women, closures of schools, women being buried and burnt alive for a male concept of ‘family honor’; protectors become perpetrators; and, the worst atrocities in the name of ‘honor’ are being justified and covered up on the basis of tradition.

Still, in my view, Saudi Arabia is way ahead with a Saudi cleric who wants death for TV ‘sorcerers’. Sheikh Saleh al-Fozan told al-Madina daily ‘The Muslim consensus is that the apostate’s punishment is death by the sword’ and ‘Those who call in these shows should not be accorded Muslim rites when they die’; that the purveyors of horoscopes on Arab television should be sentenced to death. This came ‘days after another cleric argued death for TV owners’. Situation in Pakistan however is not as luxurious as for us to be going after horoscope-readers or tv-owners yet because here we are still going after women and minorities; and, within it, the women of lower economic/social status and members of Muslim Ahmadiya community.

Today, Indian Mujahideen killed 20 and injured 100 in Delhi with a series of bomb blasts in the busy commercial centers of the city. And this sad day was made sadder by the news that UK has allowed Muslim clerics to form Shariat Courts and to implement Shariah Laws for Britain’s Muslim communities. ‘The British government has ‘quietly sanctioned’ shariah judges to rule on cases ranging from divorce and financial disputes to domestic violence’.
UK’s first official sharia courts

Fauzia Rafiq
gandholi.wordpress.com
frafique@gmail.com

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‘Loose Character’ Reason Enough to Take Women’s Lives!

Religious fanatics have successfully ‘cleansed’ the world yet again by killing two women of ‘loose character’ in the NWFP in Pakistan. Ali Hazrat Bacha writes:
‘PESHAWAR, Aug 20: In the first incident of its kind in and around the provincial capital, bullet-riddled bodies of two women, who had been kidnapped from a village in Charsadda district a few days ago, were found in Guli Garhi village near here on Wednesday.
‘A note found near bodies described the victims as women of ‘loose character’ and said they had been killed because they had not heeded the warning of ‘Jaish-i-Islami’ to ‘mend their ways’.’
CMKP Digest Number 1583

Violence against women in Pakistan is rising as always, and now, the exponents of deified male supremacy, the false-morality-ridden religious bullies, are issuing public threats to women not just in the NWFP where Taliban are in strength but in the Punjab as well. And sure, ‘loose character’ is good reason to kill a woman; it does not even cost much in Qisas as the killers will only have to pay half of what they would pay to kill a man. And that is, IF brought to justice.

At the end of last month, the Acid TIP (Tehreek-e-Islami Taliban Pakistan) threatened to ‘Throw Acid on Women Not Wearing Hijab’ . Still I think, the Taliban may use further Saudi guidance in this area as the bastion of their ‘spirituality’ is way ahead with a father killing his daughter ‘for chatting on Facebook’ .

Earlier this month, ‘Militants threw acid on two Muslim women for not wearing veils and for putting make-up on their faces’ in Srinagar Kashmir. The women were high school teachers. The same report also mentions two other women who had ‘faced similar treatment in Kaksarai recently’. www.hinduonnet.com.

Ansar Burney Trust, a human rights organization, finds that ‘in the vast majority of cases’ of women dying as a result of ‘domestic violence’, a term commonly still used in Pakistan for ‘woman assault’, were killed or mutilated by their husbands and in-laws, brothers and fathers, ex-husbands and ex-lovers. Regarding sexual violence, the Trust estimates that ‘as many as eight women – half of them minors – are raped in Pakistan everyday’. Reasons for rape: revenge on the woman or her family; Jirga/Punchayat ordered rape for her crimes or her family’s; and, by the police while in their custody. On average, ‘a woman suffers an acid attack every week in Pakistan’ www.ansarburney.org.

Last year a woman Minister was ‘Shot Dead for Refusing to Wear Veil’. ‘Pakistani tells how he killed 4 daughters’. ‘Danish-Pakistani woman killed in honor murder’ for having a ‘bad character’.

Amnesty, Asia Pacific: ‘Women and girls are dying at the hands of their husbands, their fathers and brothers, while the authorities pay lip service to their obligations to protect them’.

And that is why it is so hard to fight, even resist, the religious fanatics because they are safeguarding the ‘interests’ of all men by providing them with a strong moral-religious ground to ‘control’ what is being perceived as ‘their women’.

We are our own women.
We will determine
our ‘characters’,
values, education, dresses,
makeup, and
the size of our boobs;
We will select our partners,
careers, videos, cds,
miniskirts, and
shoes;
We will fight,
and get back the right
to live as we like;
To be who we are: Beautiful,
Graceful, Creative, and
Content.

Fauzia Rafique
gandholi.wordpress.com
frafique@gmail.com

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