The Oscar-winning documentary, A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, seeks to end honor killings of young women around the world. Honor killing is a polite word for Islamic fathers killing daughters who refuse, or are unable to perpetuate, the tradition of selling themselves, still virginal, into profitable arranged marriages. Honor killings around the world represent a problem, not just in Islamic countries, but in countries who have made middle eastern refugees welcome around the world. The Telegraph, a popular U.K. newspaper, reports that while Pakistan sees about 1,000 cases of honor killing each year, the United Kingdom has seen 11,000 in the last five years. The U.K. numbers are more than double that of Pakistan.
The Oscar winning documentary began when long time women’s rights advocate and Pakistani filmmaker, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, saw the report of Saba Qaiser’s survival of an attempted honor murder in a newspaper. Fathers killing daughters was a topic she had long wanted to bring to light, but Obaid Chinoy needed a survivor. It was just the opportunity this brave young film maker had been waiting for. First gaining recognition for her short film, Saving Face, which opposed the dubious tradition of throwing acid in the faces of women in the Middle East, Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Obaid-Chinoy has made numerous films highlighting the fate of women behind the veil of Islam.
This Oscar winning documentary began talking shape when two heroic women came face to face in a Pakistani hospital room. Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy met Sabia Qaiser while she was still recovering from her injuries, and the results made Oscar history, with perhaps the most internationally meaningful movie of the year. Saba Qaiser had been saved from the river, intended to conceal her dead body. Eighteen-year-old Saba had an arranged marriage already planned for her. Everything was set, but Saba was in love with another man, so she eloped with him. As the New Yorker reports, her father and uncle tracked her down and compelled her to come with them, insisting that she would be alright if she just left her true love and returned home. This was a lie. Sabia’s father and uncle took her to a river side, shot her in the head, dumped her body in a sack, and tossed her in the River. Islamic fathers killing daughters for elopement, promiscuity, and even being raped is all too common. Miraculously, Saba survived. Her face, rather than her brain, caught the bullet, and she was able to rip herself free of the sack and swim ashore, in courageous defiance of death. The documentary is her story.
The Oscar-winning documentary makes it clear that when Islamic fathers kill daughters, they feel no remorse and no regret. Sabia’s father was unrepentant in his comments about the incident.
“Whatever we did, we were obliged to do it. She took away our honor. If you put one drop of p*ss in a gallon of milk, the whole thing gets destroyed. That’s what she has done. Destroyed everything. For respect and honor, I am ready to spend my life in jail.”
The honor he speaks of involves the fact that he had sold his daughter, at least by western definition. The Oscar-winning documentary highlights honor killing, brought about by fathers who take large amounts of money, jewels, gold and property of all kinds, to give their daughters as brides. This is given over years and largely spent by the family. Then, if the daughter doesn’t go through with the marriage, it does amount to fraud, and breach of promise, when families have no means to repay. So, it is a complex problem rooted in the culture of arranged marriage, not in the Koran. The Koran does not in any way support honor killing. The Pakistani government, law enforcement, and their PM opposes honor killing and it is illegal, yet still it continues. The Pakistani Prime Minister plans to introduce legislation against the “forgiveness” loophole in the law after viewing this film. Still, the problem remains, and is escalating throughout the world.
[Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images]