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An award and after

The Oscar will truly come to Pakistan when the acid attack law is passed

Written by Reema Abbasi |
March 1, 2012 12:28:41 am

The Oscar will truly come to Pakistan when the acid attack law is passed

On Oscar night,Pakistan’s most meaningful moment was not its first Academy Award. It was the jubilation at rehabilitation centres for acid-burn victims across the country. And the most poignant words had to be Rehana bibi’s: “Yeh har tezaab mein jhulsi hui aurat kay liye hai. Lagta hai insaaf hua hai (This is for every woman who has been burnt by acid. It seems justice has been done).” These were the sentiments of a rural woman and scores of others who had been doused in acid. These were said just as documentary filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy,who won the Oscar for Saving Face,dedicated it “to all the women in Pakistan who are working for change”. However,Sharmeen’s real accolade remains this sentiment of vindication.

Saving Face must be applauded for its two primary facets — it centres on Dr Mohammad Jawad,a messiah plastic surgeon who flies to Pakistan from England to perform gratis reconstructive surgeries,and it immortalises the grit of Rukhsana and Zakia,the true,resolute faces of the uneducated,shackled women in the hinterlands of Pakistan. Also,this victory has hushed a myopic majority which believes that highlighting such issues can only scar Pakistan’s “soft image”. “Sach ko saamnay laanay may kya buraayi hai (What is wrong with bringing the truth to the fore)?” countered one of Pakistan’s young and fiery politicians,Marvi Memon,when asked whether the content of the celebrated documentary will give Pakistan a bad name.

This crime of misogyny first came under media spotlight in 2001,when politician Ghulam Mustafa Khar’s son Bilal Khar flung an acid-filled container at his wife Fakhra,as their five-year-old child looked on. Acid-burning is essentially a crime of misogyny,most of the victims are female. Some also see it as a crime of passion,but an argument against that is that the incidents of these brutalities carried out by design outnumber those perpetrated in the heat of the moment.

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Cut to today. Bilal Khar’s crime may have mutilated Fakhra’s persona,her future and their child’s psyche,but it has given life to another crusader,the Lahore-based Musarrat Misbah of Smile Again Foundation. The foundation’s healing process involves operations,rehabilitation and then employment for those who have suffered an acid attack. Many Smile Again girls have become beauticians,nurses,bank officials and handicraft artists. “Dr Jawad has performed numerous surgeries for us and any cause that achieves recognition such as the kind Sharmeen has got works wonders for our goals,” said a delighted Misbah when the Oscar was announced. Tragically,despite exceptional efforts by young politicians like Memon and Doniya Aziz and other champions of the cause such as Shahnaz Sheikh,Misbah and Sharmeen,2011 witnessed a despicable rise in acid excesses with nearly 200 incidents. The most recent,and frightening,is less than a month old — four women were simulatenously immersed in acid in Faisalabad.

Saving Face’s Oscar came at a time when more work is being done to free women from social mores than ever before. The Women’s Rights Bill (The Prevention of Anti-Women Practices Bill 2008) has completed its journey whereby “whoever gives a female in marriage or otherwise compels her to enter into marriage,as Badal-i-sulah,Wanni or Swara or any other custom or practice under any name,in consideration of settling a civil dispute or a criminal liability,shall be punished with imprisonment. which may extend to seven years but shall not be less than three years and shall also be liable to fine of five hundred thousand rupees.” Other clauses include inheritance deprivation,marriage by force and marriage to the Holy Quran — all punishable by fine and imprisonment.

Another landmark law is the Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Bill 2010 (tabled in the National Assembly by Memon,Sheikh and others),which prescribes a 14-year jail term for the perpetrators of acid attacks. It is a non-bailable offence that prevents any coercion from the perpetrators on their victims.

Enactments and achievements such as Sharmeen’s Oscar are reasons for momentary festivity. As cries ring out loud over the implementation of these edicts,it is clear the struggle has only just begun and culprits continue to go scot-free.

Hence,the Oscar will truly come to Pakistan when it compels authorities to turn the acid attack bill into a law,and when the electronic media actually follows a case to recovery with gender sensitivity.

And now,that Sharmeen and her cause have caught the otherwise oblivious eyes of our prime minister and president,state patronage gets allocated both as grant and accountability.

Until then,celebrate with eyes wide open.

The writer is a Karachi-based journalist

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First published on: 01-03-2012 at 12:28:41 am
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