It was this time of the year in 2012 that she had just returned from the United States after completing her studies. So I asked her to meet me. There was a lot that we needed to catch up on, gossips included.

But the one thing Haya Fatima Iqbal wanted to talk about was her work options as a documentary maker after graduating from New York University.

Little did we know back then that Haya Fatima would make it big to the Oscars as a co-producer for the documentary, ‘A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness’, a winner at this year’s Academy Awards.

Haya Fatima has been producing documentaries for a long time now. Her directorial debut, City of Parties, focuses on ethno-political violence in Karachi.

Haya Fatima and team at the Oscars.— Haya Fatima facebook page
Haya Fatima and team at the Oscars.— Haya Fatima facebook page

The Oscar-winning documentary, a joint production of SOC Films and Home Box Office, follows the life of an 18-year-old girl who is a survivor of an honour killing attempt by none other than her father.

This all started with a news item that was published in an Urdu daily in June 2014. “It was reported that a girl named Saba has miraculously survived an attempt on her life in Hafizabad. Her father had reportedly shot her for marrying a man of her choice against the family’s will,” Fatima recalls.

“We read the news and decided to pursue the story. I, along with Sharmeen and crew, went to Hafizabad the very next day. Saba was then in intensive care at the district’s hospital.”

After some initial inquiry, they went to the police station to get details about the incident.

Haya Fatima said her team had assumed that, due to the delicate nature of the matter, police would be reluctant in sharing details and arresting the accused. “But to our surprise, arrests had already been made and a case filed. The SHO of Saddar police station in Hafizabad, Ali Akbar Chattha, was a man of principles and a clear understanding of the case.”

He said a crime had been committed and that “no one holds the right to take someone else’s life”.

Haya Fatima said that Saba, the victim, had been very lucky. Not only did she survive the attempt on her life, but got legal and medical aid by good professionals. She was kept in a private room at hospital and provided special security throughout her treatment at the hospital, said Haya Fatima.

The victim’s father had tried to kill her after she married Qaiser Ali, a generator mechanic living in Gujranwala. When Saba survived the murder attempt, Qaiser was informed and the news spread to Saba’s family as well.

Both families approached the victim. The legal battle had also started. Saba’s father confessed in court that he had tried to kill his daughter. “Although he seemed to be a modest person, he felt no guilt at all,” Fatima said.

— Haya Fatima facebook page
— Haya Fatima facebook page

There were so many court hearings that Haya Fatima covered, shuttling endlessly between Karachi and Hazfizabad. “There were times when we travelled all the way for a court hearing, but it got cancelled for some reason as odd as bad weather,” she recalled.

“We interviewed Saba’s father behind bars and also when he was attending court proceedings, but he felt no remorse about what he had done.”

In fact, he was a satisfied man because “I have been receiving marriage proposals for my other daughters as now I enjoy respect as never before”.

Haya Fatima said she saw such individuals as more dangerous than even suicide bombers. “And the worst thing is that society accepts and approves of them.”

Interviewing Saba was a tough job in the beginning, recalled Haya Fatima. “She was badly wounded and weak. She had problems while speaking and for recording purposes we had to switch off the fan as well, irritating her as it gets very hot in Punjab in summers.

“We had to do recordings in bits and pieces due to Saba’s medical condition. But she had nerves of steel. At times I used to think that other than the physical pain, one can’t imagine the level of mental trauma she has been through.”

The court proceedings of the case went on for about four months before arriving at a conclusion. “I wasn’t much hopeful that Saba will forgive her father, but as a matter of fact she somehow did.”

Haya Fatima tried to explain the factors behind the decision taken by Saba, but halfway into the discussion she herself started to question them.

Saba pardoned her father after she was persuaded by her family elders, said Haya Fatima.

The reason they presented is not something unheard of. “You can’t go against your own family, you have to live with them no matter what. That’s what was said to Saba by her family’s elders, asking her to pardon her father.”

The co-producer feels this attitude has done more harm to society than good. “Even if the state awards punishment, it does nothing to change such a mindset which keeps glorifying criminals and murderers.”

Published in Dawn, March 1st, 2016