On Feb 21, I received a call from my boss: "Shamil, we are going to discuss Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy’s documentary, A Girl in The River: The Price of Forgiveness tomorrow on prime time on our TV channel and I would like you to host it."

"For one hour?" I asked.

"No. It will be a transmission." This meant it would run for at least two hours.

Needless to say, I was stunned.

In my career as a broadcast journalist, I have seldom seen societal ills, such as honour killing, given prime time coverage in the media.

In part because such matters are considered taboo and also because they don't 'sell' — national politics and international affairs dominate much of prime time coverage.

Even if social issues are covered, it is done in a cursory manner in the daily news bulletins.

"A daughter was killed by her father," or "a brother murdered his sister in the name of honour", or as our Urdu newspapers cover it, "Aashna kay saath bhagnay wali, bhai kay hathon qatal".

That's it.

Recently, trends have been changing with regards to how these issues should be approached in mainstream media.

There is a growing consensus that these matters ought to be discussed and given adequate coverage.

On Feb 22, we were at the PTV studios. The screening commenced in the prime minister’s office at around 3pm. Many reporters and correspondents from state-run channel PTV were at the PM Secretariat, waiting for Sharmeen and the PM to speak to them.

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy meeting PM Nawaz Sharif at his official residence in Islamabad, Feb 15, 2016. — Photo courtesy PM Office
Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy meeting PM Nawaz Sharif at his official residence in Islamabad, Feb 15, 2016. — Photo courtesy PM Office

The transmission started at 5pm. We had invited activists, lawyers and politicians at the studio. There was an air of festivity at the PTV centre.

The discussion ranged from honour killings to domestic violence. The role played by clerics and police was especially underscored.

The participants, mostly women, wanted strict laws to be formulated and implemented. Over the next two hours, we conversed on how best to counter oppression against women.

Also read: Punjab Assembly passes Protection of Women Against Violence Bill

Even before Sharmeen won the Oscar in Los Angeles on Feb 28, she had won at home.

She was lauded both at the PM Secretariat and the studios. Premiering her documentary in the Prime Minister House was an excellent move culminating with Nawaz avowing to eradicate honour killings. I hope he comes good on his promise.

Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif along with Ms Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy at the screening of her documentary “A Girl in the River: the Price of Forgiveness “at PM Office. — Photo courtesy: PID
Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif along with Ms Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy at the screening of her documentary “A Girl in the River: the Price of Forgiveness “at PM Office. — Photo courtesy: PID

It's a ghastly sight when mothers come hurtling into police stations when their daughters are killed by their own fathers and brothers in the name of honour. The plight of the girls killed in the name of honour goes unnoticed primarily because this crime is a compoundable offence.

In the case that a father, brother or son kills a woman, the female members of the family are compelled to forgive the accused. Additionally, the state cannot proceed against the accused since the matter is treated as a domestic issue and not a crime.

Also read: No justice for the Tahiras' of Sindh

Just yesterday it was reported that a man, named Asif, killed his two sisters in an apparent honour killing in Sahiwal. Four years ago, he had killed his mother. Asif killed his sisters because he “doubted their character and was against their life style”.

Many perceive honour killing to be a rural issue, and not an urban one, which is absolutely incorrect.

An SHO I spoke to in Rawalpindi told me that countless cases of honour killing are reported every day. He also said there are many families who never come forward to report the crime to the police.

"They settle the dispute amongst themselves and the issue remains within the family."

When there is no complainant, the police are helpless. "We can implement the law and arrest the offenders and culprits but raising awareness about the crime is not our job; rather educational institutions and mosques."

His answer stayed with me. Clerics can indeed play an integral role in creating awareness about such crimes. A mosque's pulpit is the best place to take up these matters.

Take a look: What makes parents murder their daughters?

"A murder is a murder and there is no justification for it neither in the Shariah nor in any sane interpretation of religion," said Maulvi Bakhtiar Ahmed, whom I met in Raja Bazaar.

We need more sane people like him, I thought. We need Imams like him to tell our people what humanity really is.

We need teachers to talk about such incidents with students in schools and colleges.

We need the media to educate people by discussing these issues and not merely running enacted shows or tickers. This heinous practice could go on forever if the necessary legislation is not carried out on a war footing.

After the Oscar buzz dies down, the Pakistani media must not stop at highlighting this most important discussion on our prime time slots.

Explore: A different honour

Honour killing should be made a non-compoundable offence so that the perpetrators can be brought to justice which will set a precedent.

In the absence of a complainant, the state can become one so that cases of honour killings do not end up in the "sard khana" due to non-prosecution.

Pakistan is the country that had the first female prime minister in the region and the first female speaker in the National Assembly as well, and it doesn't have to stop there.

We owe it to our women to leave them a country where equality and justice prevail.

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