Worry for safety of acid attack victims in docu: Oscar-winner

Sharmeen is worried about the safety of the women who have bravely spoken about their fight for justice against their husbands.

New York: For all the international accolades and recognition Pakistan`s Oscar-winning documentary ‘Saving Face’ is receiving, its directors "worry" about the safety of the women who have shared their ordeal in the movie.
Pakistani director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and American filmmaker Daniel Junge say they will take their award winning documentary about Pakistan`s acid-attack victims to the South Asian country but not before they are assured the safety of the women who have bravely spoken about their misery and fight for justice against their husbands and relatives.
"The night after the Oscars, I was worried about Rukhsana and Zakia," Chinoy said referring to Saving Face`s two protaganists. The 40-minute documentary tells the stories of Zakia, 39, whose husband threw acid on her after she filed for divorce and of 25-year old Rukhsana whose husband and in-laws threw acid and gasoline on her before setting her on fire. The two, like many other victims, have received the much-needed medical treatment by Pakistani-British plastic surgeon Mohammed Jawad, who has featured in the movie. Chinoy, who along with Junge was in the city for the screening of their Oscar-winning documentary at Asia Society yesterday, said while the women wanted to share their stories, they did not want to be in the media too much as that would make it "difficult for them to lead their lives in Pakistan." "We had considered bringing Rukhsana and Zakia to the Oscars but the women do not feel comfortable getting so much exposure," Chinoy said. "The parts of Pakistan where they come from, women do not speak out as much as they have spoken in the movie. They fear a little bit and we fear for them a little bit," she said. Junge said that the documentary would be broadcast in the US, UK before it is rolled out globally. "Pakistan is our most important audience but we need to be very careful there. We first need to be assured of all the subjects` safety and that is what we are working on now, before we can release the film there." Chinoy said Zakia, whose husband has been sentenced to double life imprisonment for throwing acid on her, still has "anxiety". Her husband has appealed against the verdict and the fear of retribution is always there for the victims. Junge said initially it was difficult for the women to the cameras into their lives and be open about their ordeal. "But the women wanted to be the voice that tells people what they go through on a daily basis." Later talking to reporters, Chinoy, who has also won an Emmy for her work `Pakistan`s Taliban Generation`, said the Oscars have given the acid-attack victims "a global voice." Chinoy is launching an outreach programme in Pakistan that seeks to work with victims in countries where acid attacks are rampant, in partnership with Pakistan`s Acid Survivors Foundation. The foundation is working with survivors of acid attacks and helping them rehabilitate and seek medical treatment. Chinoy is also getting support from surgeons across the globe who have pledged support to work with the victims. She says the movie is about hope as much as it is about despair. "The reaction in Pakistan has been tremendous because there is such little good news that ever comes out of Pakistan that it is lovely to have a nation unite behind something so big. It is an incredible feeling to bring a story out that empowers Pakistanis to think that they can solve their own country`s problems." Chinoy said some hope has come to the victims in the form of a law against acid attacks that was passed unanimously in the Pakistani Parliament last year which provides that attackers be sentenced to life in prison for their crimes. She expressed hope that such laws will give strength to the women to come forward and report acid attacks and fight against the perpetrators. The attacks happen mostly in Saraiki region in Pakistan`s Punjab province where there is high illiteracy and unemployment. Chinoy explained that acid is readily and easily available in the region as it is used for cleaning cotton. She intends to work with groups in Pakistan to get a law passed in parliament that regulates the sale of acid. Chinoy feels education is the key to help eradicate such social menace. "I strongly believe that education can solve all of the women`s problems in Pakistan," she said adding that victims are forced to stay with their attackers, who are mostly husbands and in-laws, since they are illiterate and cannot fend for themselves. This emboldens the perpetrators who feel they will not be held accountable for their actions. "This problem can only be eradicated if there are concerted effort at all levels of society. Our message is that these women should not give up on their dreams, must persevere and win this fight," Chinoy said. PTI