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Civilised people have to strengthen system: Obaid-Chinoy

KARACHI: “The answer to violence is not violence,” said Oscar-winning filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy as she patiently listened — and replied — to questions from her audience comprising 300 youths on day three of the six-day Young Leaders’ Conference-2012 at a hotel on Tuesday.

The question put to her by a young female leader was how to stop heinous crimes such as throwing acid on unsuspecting people from happening again and again. Ms Obaid-Chinoy urged the audience to believe in a strong judicial system that can make an example of the criminals as it happened in the case of Zakia, one of the women in her documentary Saving Face, whose husband after being proven guilty in a court was sentenced to double life imprisonment.

“When you throw acid on people, you make them ‘living dead’. I know that the biggest problem here is preventing the crime rather than the treatment of the acid victims. But you have to understand that you can’t be as cruel as they [people who throw acid] are, as you are all civilised people who have to make the system stronger. My documentary is really the story of hope for the doctors, lawyers, politicians and other professionals of Pakistan who can in their own capacities work together for a single cause in order to reach a positive solution,” she explained.

“In fact we should all be thinking about bringing change rather than worrying about our problems,” she added.

Asked why the plastic surgeon, Dr Mohammad Jawad, in Saving Face doesn’t come back to settle in Pakistan if he feels so much for the acid victims and can also help them, Ms Obaid-Chinoy said, “Dr Jawad has been frequenting Pakistan since 2005. He doesn’t live here permanently but says he comes back every now and then like a son or daughter comes to take care of their ailing mother. Pakistan is like an ailing mother for Dr Jawad. He will never forget about it and will always be a dutiful son to it.”

About how the film has helped the acid victims, she said the media had started giving more importance to their cases, which are often reported now. As for the subjects in the documentary, she said that Ms Zakia was doing a lot better after receiving some funds from a donor. “As for Ms Rukhsana, the woman who returned to her husband who disfigured her in the first place, well, she is still facing many complications,” she informed the audience.

On being asked if she had the women’s permission to film and interview them and were any of the portions re-enacted, Ms Obaid-Chinoy clarified that there were absolutely no re-enactments and “we were working with a foreign team where it is only ethical to get written permission of the subjects before shooting.”

Asked if after showing the ugly side of society, had she thought of making a film on something positive, too, she said she had been working on a series of short documentaries under the Ho Yaqeen project that highlighted the good being done by the people of Pakistan for their fellowmen. “We are fighting to bring respect to Pakistan,” she added.

About her next big project, she said that she would next be filming in Lahore for a story of musicians, who are octogenarians now and used to play in orchestras. “I am also working on another film about Bangladeshi female peace activists working in Congo,” she said.

The questions followed the screening of the documentary on two big screens at the conference.

The day’s other highlights included other activities and talks given by people from different walks of life. TV producer Sahira Kazmi asked the youngsters, especially the young men, to respect women. EBM Marketing Manager Shakeel A. Akram spoke about breaking of paradigms. YLC director Kamran Rizvi urged the youths to remain open to different views after the day champ, Asma Mustafa, explained the relevance of the theme of the day ‘Importance of culture for enhancing social harmony’.

The keynote address titled ‘Oneness in opposites’ was immaculately orchestrated by Abbas Husain of the Teachers’ Development Centre. The youth theatre group, ZAHRSSS, then presented an improvised performance to bring out the nuances of a diverse culture.

The evening breakout sessions were led by Asif Sinan on music, Amin Gulgee on painting and sculpting, Zaheer Kidvai on writing, Sheema Kermani on classical dance and Khalid Malik on media. Later the capacity building sessions were facilitated by Asma Mustafa, Nadeem Abdi from Multan and Zain Goplani on learning to choose one’s values and living them and how to build positive and lasting relationships.