ISLAMABAD: The Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) aired ‘Poles Apart’, a documentary based on the menace of forced marriages, on Wednesday.

Directed by Samar Minallah, the short documentary focuses on individuals who managed to escape forced marriages amongst Pakistani families across the country and in Norway, to maintain links with their roots or other social cultural reasons.

The movie’s director, who has been highlighting various forms of forced marriage, including compensation marriages such as vani/swara and early marriages, focuses on the parents as prospective agents of change.

Shot in Oslo, Norway, Jhelum, Gujrat and Lalamusa, the production captures glimpses from the life of Khadija, in Jhelum, who dared to return to Pakistan after enduring an abusive relationship with her husband for seven years.

The film shows how she lived now, content in giving driving lessons to girls in her hometown.

The documentary is not just restricted to women’s issues but also shows the impact of forced marriages on men.

It contains shots of Tayyab Chaudhry, in Oslo, who stood his ground when he was also being forced to marry against his will.

With the underpinning that chains can not keep marriages together, the documentary emphasises the importance of individuals involved being given the choice to choose and refuse.

The director supports this message with comments from a former judge of Lahore High Court, Nasira Iqbal, who explained how marriages could only be between freely consenting parties. “This is the true concept of marriage in Islam,” said retired Justice Nasira Iqbal.

The film reveals shocking statistics, stating that around 1,700 individuals were forced into marriages, in 2010, and one third of them were under the age of 18 years.

Samar Minallah explains, through moving images and examples, how in most cases the individuals were forced into marriages when families are trying to improve their station in life.

She gave the example of Najma Bibi, who was married to a man, who was ill and had been married twice before, so that her family could pull their relatives out of Pakistan to settle in a foreign country that presumably offered better living standards.

It shows how dreams turn into bitter reality, not just for the married couple, but they also sever family ties. The production depicts how younger generations walked into the traps and the parents emotionally blackmailed them into marrying persons who were poles apart.

“Young people become victims of values and customs of older generations, who are trying to uphold practices that have become obsolete,” the documentary quotes one victim of forced marriage as saying.

It also reflects on parents who meant well, but misjudged the intentions of others, doing more harm to their children. Mental mismatches and barriers led to divorces within months, or in some cases many painful years later.

The film’s screening was part of FES’s efforts to spread awareness on the gender issues, in an informal atmosphere. The concept was to bring civil society together, to provide a platform and discuss such controversial issues.

Poet and writer Kishwar Naheed, said, “These issues are not resolving and the honor crimes are increasing, day by day. Choice of marriage is not only a crime but it is also considered as a sin.”

The documentary was shown as part of the ‘Movie-log’ initiative of the three cooperation partners, German Political Foundation (FES), the German academic exchange Deustcher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD), and the Centre of Excellence in Gender Studies at Quaid-e-Azam University.

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