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Acid attacks and Pakistani schizophrenia

Published Apr 16, 2012 04:19pm


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I’m not particularly interested in the Oscars.  Surprising really as I have recently taken to making films myself, but the Oscar winning films are often of little interest (Inception and Inglorious Bastards are rare exceptions).  My ears pricked up however, when news trickled through that there had been a first-ever Pakistani Oscar winner.

Just the words “Pakistani winner” was a pick-me-up for someone like me, who is preoccupied with presenting Pakistan in a more balanced and healthy way.

A few weeks later, gathered with great and beautiful British Pakistanis at the High Commission in London, it was a pleasure to greet the Oscar winner herself – Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy. We sipped mango juice beneath chandeliers and I even put on a shalwar kameez for the occasion. Good news. Warm feelings in the room as spring sunshine poured in through open windows. A giant portrait of Jinnah looked down on the packed room like an old friend.

A few speeches were made – unusually short – and our attention was drawn to several TV monitors in the room, where we watched some of the award winning film. And then, just as I had experienced when talking about flood victims in the presence of a Prince, an uncomfortable feeling crept over me.

The screens were filled with the mutilated faces of female victims of acid attacks. Suddenly the glamour of the heavily made up Pakistani lovelies in the room faded. The superficiality of a diplomatic function (and ultimately of the Oscars) was lifted and in the silence that fell around the room you could feel hearts beating in chests. The hero of the film appears to be British Mohammad Jawad – a plastic surgeon on a quest to fix those most disfigured – but ultimately to shine a spotlight on this most grotesque of crimes – the brutal defacement of women.

Laws have been changed and by the sounds of it, potentially behaviour has been too as a result of the film Saving Face. Laudable indeed. And the film, if you see it – is a story of resilience and good spirited people. Uplifting even, in a strange way.

However. This is only half the story. One face.

The greatest shame is the damage this film does to the perception of Pakistan for those people who won’t see it, but just read the headline which isn’t read as “Pakistani wins Oscar”. The news that screams loudest is “Pakistan Director wins Oscar for film on Acid Attacks Victims” - see Reuters, Gulf News, and even The Himalayan. As the New York Times reports, Pakistan is wearily accustomed to be being the focus of bad news.

It feeds straight into the narrative that Pakistan is full of barbaric maniacs who, despite professing the moral values of Islam, will slash and burn their own most cherished mothers. It devalues a nation.


Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy is a true inspiration to women not just in Pakistan. She has used her skills and creativity to bring about meaningful change to a foul societal problem and bring funding and attention more broadly to The Acid Survivors Trust. Even Britain has seen an acid attack in recent weeks – a racist attack on a woman pushing a baby with a pram.


By receiving an award from a US-centric organisation in an industry “run by Jews” – this film walks straight into the mouths of the conspiracy theorists.  The last winner of this award for short documentary went to a feel good movie about migrant children in Israel. The one before that about a remarkable individual from Zimbabwe. Anyone who says the Oscars isn’t political is kidding themselves.

OK.  Enough of this.

It was Talat Hussain who first described his feelings for his country as schizophrenic – 50 per cent elated and hopeful and 50 per cent doom-ridden. Having observed the reaction to the news of Obaid-Chinoy’s award on social networks – and with friends – it seems that Saving Face has provoked a typical Talat reaction – which I share. An absolute elation for her Oscar success, but a dark feeling in the pit of my stomach which asks why for this film?

Does anyone want to make a film with me?

Caroline Jaine is a UK based writer, artist and film-maker with a background in media strategy, training and diplomacy. Her book A Better Basra, about her time in Iraq was published in August 2011. More about Caroline’s work and her contact details can be found here and on facebook.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.


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Caroline Jaine is a UK based writer, artist and film-maker with a background in media strategy, training and international relations. Her main research interests are in the perception of places and people as presented in the media. Her book A Better Basra, about her time in Iraq was published in August 2011.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (40) Closed

Goga Nalaik Apr 17, 2012 03:25pm
Should we continue living in denial ??? - Improvement in such social ills is only possible when theyare videly projected in the media and accepted by a large majority of population. Yes, it does add to the disrepute of Pakistan but we have no choice. I salute you Sharmeen
faisal Apr 17, 2012 11:46am
maam , y should we hide our dirty baggage under our so called image. As a muslim i believe that all of us our culprits by providing fake justifications 4 a despicable act. Next in line would be arguments against edhi.
irene (@rantersparad Apr 17, 2012 12:26pm
I think much, much more could have been written here and in more depth. This is an issue that plagues ALL ethnic minority countries but yet it still has not been discussed in honest dialogue by said minorities. The issue isn't the work she is doing but the work you're not doing. I spent many years depressed over representation of Blacks in the media even though we all come from a huge continent and culturally the blacks represented are from the opposite side of the continent to me ethincally-it's not hear nor there, we're all the same-but I had to realize that every time there is a poor representation I might not like but that is honest and balanced, instead of moaning about 'stereotypes' I should be asking 'why on earth are we not doing anything?' And therein lies the problem. It's all great to play the victim but then what next? What's the plan? The strategy? The outcomes? The deliverables? Along the same feeling it reminds me of a heated discussion I was having with a Pakistani driver about Islam-the heat was coming from his side-whilst I was on my way to a Lib Dem political conference in the UK. He was aggressively arguing about the political parties in the country and how they misrepresented Islam and were in the pockets of the Jews. I tried to engage in some decent discourse but I realized he was talking at me, not with me, so I pointed out a last comment which has been plaguing for many years whenever the issue of Islam circa Afghanistan and Pakistan is discussed in the British Media, I asked him why do they not get stronger and better media representatives to tell the truth? And he couldn't answer me but said 'oh but they wouldn't listen'. Really? This is just an example but my point comes not just from Pakistanis but a myriad of ethnic friends I have, don't get upset when one side is just been spoken about in the media. The media isn't your family nor your culture. They just have to do their job. Like this brave director had to do her job-tell a story to people who are being ignored. Now it's in the hands of the communities to organize themselves strategically and bring stories to the media that are fair, balanced and not biased about Pakistan. Humans beings are deeply unbalanced, so are the countries we come form. We should deal with this.
Moen Das Apr 18, 2012 01:46am
India has an internationally documented higher rate of acid mutilations than Pakistan. And is at the top of the UN records for acid disfigurement of women. For some reason this was left out of the Oscar documentary.
asma Apr 17, 2012 11:49am
I do not agree with the article. I salute Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy for bringing this subject into light. Having known the acid victims personally, I have seen the pain and anguish that they go through...I am so sad to see that rather than appreciating her , admitting the fault we are critizing her for doing something which none of us ever dared to do.
Sumaira Apr 17, 2012 02:46am
It is pretty sad that Pakistan was in spotlight yet again for something sick and inhumane. Oscar is political, no doubt! I would have been happier if Pakistan won an oscar for a movie that told a pretty picture of Pakistan but then such a movie wouldn't have won an oscar.
El Cid Apr 18, 2012 12:21am
Thank you Caroline Jaine for daring to point out the Pink Elephant in the room.
Igloo Apr 16, 2012 11:11pm
Well said. The greater pity is that much of the Pakistani Media seem unaware of how they feed this narrative - which ultimately devalues them.
Wazir Khan Apr 17, 2012 10:25pm
Good one, Anum!
Wazir Khan Apr 17, 2012 01:17pm
Writer is absolutely right. Awarding Oscar is definitely a political issue, and is being used as a tool to project the point of view of a particular group. Lets now see Miss Chinnoy making a film that projects a positive image of her country and lets see if that film makes its way up to the coveted corridors of Oscar Award.
Jawad Apr 16, 2012 09:56pm
I can't see why are we so ashamed of admitting what is a REALITY to this part of the world? Sharmeen have only captured what is a 'truth' and yes there are other horrible truths too! What about 'karo-kari', 'vani', 'watta-satta'? These do happens too and we feel 'ashamed' when the world presents it, but don't feel ashamed when do DO it? Pretending that the reality does not exists will not take it away! Rather, it will continue to claim more victims! Acknowledging and accepting that a problem exists is a first step towards its resolution.
Bernard Gill Apr 18, 2012 01:01am
Does Sharmeen think that she got the Oscar base on talent?
El Cid Apr 18, 2012 12:53am
How do you conclude that exposing ones shame at the Oscars is "...swept under the rug".
El Cid Apr 18, 2012 12:49am
Win! It would NOT be allowed submission at the Oscars.
Anum Apr 17, 2012 06:28pm
It made me happier when Abdul Sattar Edhi sahabs ambulance service was included in the Guineas book of world records as the largest network of ambulances in the world. It's important to highlight such issues, but not to an audience at the Oscar who barely know about Moen Jo Daro, Taxila, K2...and people like Edhi sahab, Dr.AQ Khan, Arfa KARim Microsoft genious,philanthrophist Ansar Burni and many more. The danger lies in the world knowing Osama bin ladin the greatest terrorist, greatest terrorist killed in Pakistan, Acid attacks on women in Pakistan. Think over it. This documentary has only added to our negative perception in the world. However with all said and done whatever my Rabb has Decreed for the future fate of Pakistan will surely happen despite a negative or positive movie Oscar. long live Islam, Iman and Pakistan
Falcon Apr 17, 2012 07:31am
I think you captured well the sentiments of many amongst us.
jamil,chaklala RwP. Apr 17, 2012 07:13am
I have the feeling that the film has further added to the disrepute of Pakistan.
Karachishehar Apr 17, 2012 06:40am
Do you think Sharmeen would have won an Oscar had she made a documentary about tens of thousands of Afghan women and children who were burned by phosphorous bombs?
El Cid Apr 18, 2012 12:42am
Oscar winner Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy perhaps should have balanced her argument by mentioning that acid attacks on women in India, Bangladesh, and South East Asia are far greater than they are in Pakistan. Also Jane should have mentioned the latest case of acid attack of European men on European women...and increasing in America. But in America they prefer the gun, car-jack, or pick-axe. Children are often drowned in the bath tub by their mothers...but highlighting these facts at the Oscars is NOT acceptable.
Shahan Apr 17, 2012 05:00pm
No one's criticizing her. Read the article again
arslan Apr 16, 2012 09:24pm
You liked inglorious bastards! gosh, well what can I say !
Secular Pakistan Apr 16, 2012 07:26pm
The issue like so many social ugliness in Pakistan are swept under the rug. Niether the clergy nor the politicians have the courage to stand up to people who terrorize it's citizens on so many social levels, women, children and minorities taking the biggest share of these abuses. As much as I would like to see Pakistan potrayed in positive light, I also want light to shine on it;s darkest corners and uncovering its underbelly of intolerance and indifference towards such cruel acts such as acid attacks on women. If Islam is to be the standard bearer religion of this country then the vast majority of followers of this religion will have to snatch the standard from the violent minority.
Baigent Rudman Apr 18, 2012 02:15am
The politically motivated Oscar was given to insult your intelligence. But you wouldn't know.
El Cid Apr 18, 2012 12:12am
Wow! I am with you Anum. Well said.
Chris Apr 18, 2012 04:57am
Obaid-Chinoy peeled just one layer of the oppressive culture Pakistan has evolved into. She shed light and gave a voice to those that are systematically kept in the dark and prevented from having a voice. Their are many layers of our troubled culture that need to be talked about but are kept in the dark because they are considered inappropriate topics for converstion. Topics like acid attacks, forced marriage of women--especially poor young girls who are literally sold into marrying men as old as their fathers, treatment of Christians, Ahmedis, Hindus and any faith that calls God by a name other than Alla. The director has done well in bringing a voice to the voiceless. I only hope other young film directors will be inspired to make thought provoking and progressive films that will change humanity for the better. Hopefully Pakistan will emerge from the dark ages as it has become way to complacent and backward.
Farid Apr 18, 2012 06:11am
Mohammed Ali Shyhaki Apr 18, 2012 07:28am
Mohammed Ali Shyhaki Apr 18, 2012 07:38am
Asma Qureshi Apr 18, 2012 10:42am
Well written and it clearly depicts my sentiments... Oscars are definitely political. Why Saving Faces from Pakistan? Why Slumdog Millionaire from India? Why Children of Heaven from Iran? Perhaps because these documentaries depict the weakness of a country... the bad points of the country, it shows what is lagging but not what these countries are excelling at. Why is the focus on demeaning the country and what are the percentage of women who get acid attacks in Pakistan? and what about those areas which highlight the positive image of the country. What about those men who have supported their wives who have started their own business or those men who have educated their daughters and women. Maria B.'s husband helped her start her Business which has now become and international brand. Arfa Karim highlighted the name of pakistan in the whole world. Why is that when you meet foreigners they think that all the men in pakistan beat their women and hide them in houses. Women have considerably been empowered with time and are earning and supporting their families, with every good cases there is a bad case but highlighting, awarding and appreciating for the weakness or the ills of a nation is definitely political. Anything that raises eyebrows is much appreciated since it captures a bid audience. well written!
Chris Apr 26, 2012 11:08am
Wow talk about putting your head in the sand. Europe and America? Not many bombs going off here. May be we have perfected drones that drop acid? Where did you get your statistics? Balance an argument? There is no comparison to Pakistan any where on earth. It's everyone else's fault. Stop showing things like this and it will get better? Put your fingers back in your ears and sing a happy little tune. Nothing is wrong.
Hamza Lodhi Apr 19, 2012 10:27am
People please.... No one is criticizing the lady who won the Oscar for Pakistan, as I would call it. We appreciate her effort and her genuine concern for these victims and her help. But you need to understand the nature of the film industry and the monopoly of the people who make you think what they want you to think. So without her bad intentions off course, the nature of her topic was a potential Oscar winner as it serves multiple purposes: 1. Its a positive gesture towards the country, specially in current circumstances with NATO and all. 2.At the same time the irony is on the appreciated, that you compliment someone and strip them naked only if they have the insight to understand it.Obviously one can never really tell, but you do know it. So please people remember one thing. People will be people, leaders will be leaders. Lies will be lies and why shouldn't they be. We were told this is what this world is.
Satya Apr 23, 2012 03:13pm
Their can't be any better use of Pakistani money then funding sympathetic writing in nation and International media but it should not use these contact for political purposes and create problems for these contacts as happened in the case of US lobbyist for J&K.
Noor-e-Hira Apr 23, 2012 10:16am
you know, I had felt the same, had asked the same question to myself and others but they put it off by saying I see conspiracy in every American thing.
Pradeep Apr 20, 2012 07:35pm
The fact that India was left out of the debate hurts more than what hurts these women? Why be the non-India all the time? Solve your own issues first rather than pointing out who else is not clean. Christ!
Joe Malma Apr 20, 2012 07:56pm
I am from Malaysia and I feel so sad every time I read news about the acid victims. This thing should not happen anywhere to anyone. I am not from Pakistan so I do not know the real situations on the ground. Is it cultural? Is it religion? I am sure it's not religion as We in Malaysia are mostly Muslims and this thing does not happen (maybe 1 or 2 isolated cases). It is not fair for me to blame Pakistani culture. However, the government must be very strict and punish the people who throw acid severely. Jail term is not enough for them. Sharmeen did a right thing. If Pakistanis feel shameful about this, do not blame her. Do something about the acid throwing instead. That is the problem, she isn't.
KiranB (@kirbeg) Apr 20, 2012 11:55pm
Portraying Pakistan in a negative way through this documentary shouldn't even be such a concern. What matters is that this documentary brought more awareness throughout the world of a subject that needs to be addressed. I feel that the Pakistani culture focuses too much on reputation, whether it's reputation of people or the country itself. If you care too much about reputation, change is unlikely to happen because of the borders you are boxed in. Without change, how can you improve? Without change, how can you better yourself or a country? You can't. As much as people love to show their patriotic pride, setting aside that and focusing on more important issues like reforming a nation would better serve their time.
Asghar Apr 20, 2012 10:57pm
It is easier to be critical than to be correct!!! Anum if we as Pakistanis want a better projection of our land abroad then we will have to first accept our failures and focus on positively changing ourselves and stop worrying about what other think of us - unforunately our false pride and limited 'drawing rooms' discussions are not going to get us there - we all want to go to heaven but none of us is willing to die.
calmdown Apr 21, 2012 01:45am
You know she would never have been mentioned. The sooner we realize that this Oscar had nothing to do with talent, and everything to do with shock imagery about a foreign, 'evil' country, the sooner we will realize that Sharmeen has done the country a disservice. We all knew about the acid burnings... they happen for the same reason all bad things happen here... because the perpetrators are politically connected, and think they can get away with it (Same is true for dacoits, begar-camp operators, corrupt officials, human organ traffickers etc. Same is true for many other countries). This movie doesn't change that. But forever and ever, the record shall state that the first Pakistan Oscar was this gruesome, one-sided movie. But I guess that okay, because Sharmeen has got Oscar she never would have gotten otherwise. YAAAYYY!!
Anum Apr 21, 2012 03:37am
There is nothing wrong with what you say. But there is definately wrong when only our failure is potrayed and our success is undermined! Unfortunately there is a biased against our nation. I accept our flaws and take responsibility for lack in our ownselves. But people out there in my natiion are also working hard day in and day out to get us there. Edhi sahab is doing it, but does anyone know about him or make a movie about him like they did for slumdog millionaire. Every country out there has flaws, including the most developed nations. Burrying women alive, yes that happened in America. But a movie was not made on it and they didnt give it an oscar. The tragedy of the western ideology is that they preach and encourage openness reagrding major issues in the East, while they are all hush hush about their own!The day an oscar is given to a movie showing brutality such as phosphorous bombs in Palestine mutilating children bones, only then will i deem oscars to be fair. Not claiming to be correct nor critical. Have a brain which thinks, my thinking may be differenet from some one else. We should agree to disagree and respect opinion.
Kiran Apr 24, 2012 05:53pm
Telling media to include positive news about Pakistan isn’t going to help the country improve its conditions.