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A Girl in the River

I finally watched Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s “A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness,” an Urdu, Panjabi, and English documentary about honor killings in Pakistan. It won an Oscar this year for Best Documentary Short Subject.

Obaid-Chinoy takes us through the story of a young woman who fell in love with a man, married him in court, told her parents, then went home, trusting that her parents would grow to understand her decision and love her new husband. After pretending they accepted her choice, her father and uncle lured her into a car at night, took her to a river, murdered her and dumped her in the river.

A quick explanation of honor killings: in South Asian society, honor (Hindi-Urdu: izzat/ghairat غیرت/عزت) is a highly important value deeply connected with sex and marriage. Marriage without the parents’ permission is considered highly dishonorable, enough to prompt some parents to murder their own children.

Although this was attempted murder, special legal exceptions apply to honor killings, as the film explains. If a victim forgives the family members for the attempted murder, the family members walk free. This horror juxtaposed with the absolutely loving relationship between the young man and woman in the film was just heart-wrenching. Yet amongst all of this horror, Obaid-Chinoy offers a message of hope at the end of the film.

Obaid-Chinoy’s work brought this scourge clearly in the public view. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was so shocked by this film that he organized public screenings of the film. Obaid-Chinoy also directed another Oscar-winning documentary from 2012 “Saving Face” about many people in Pakistan, mostly women, brutally victimized by acid attacks. Many cases go unreported. This documentary is primarily in Urdu and English.

I highly recommend both of these documentaries.

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