There is a bittersweet bit of irony at play in the fact that Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy’s Academy-award winning short documentary film A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness is on the schedule at LIFF2016. I watched it the same day I heard about the death of Pakistani internet sensation Qandeel Baloch (allegedly an honour killing at the hands of her brother).
A Girl in the River traces the case of the attempted honour killing of a girl at the hands of her father and uncle. Each year, the film tells us, at least 1000 Pakistani women are killed by family members who deem that they have sullied the family “izzat” or honour in some way. Saba’s “crime” was to run away and marry – in fact, to marry the man that her own family had arranged her marriage with, a marriage they decided to break off when Saba’s uncle objected on grounds that the groom’s family status was below the level of that of the bride’s. Saba was shot, stuffed into a bag, and thrown in the river. That she managed to survive is a miracle in itself. That her father and uncle were clearly the perpetrators of the crime is obvious – they admit to their actions, justified, of course by Saba’s attack on their honour.
The film is a fascinating and heartbreaking look at a system which pits tradition against modernity, at varying interpretations of Islaam, and at community pressures which come into play – it turns out that in the cases of honour killings, perpetrators may be acquitted and released if close family members of the victim forgive them. Saba, having survived, must be the one to decide if she will forgive her father and uncle and allow them to go free.