The independence to voice ones contentions, has always come with a heavy price. This norm is what essentially defined the past and continues to persist even today. During the Middle Ages, individuals who dared to voice their grievances against the feudal system wreaking havoc in their lives, or the individuals who consciously chose to speak against the defined norms and constrictions of the society, had to bear dire repercussions for their infidelity. As a price for their rational and aggressive disposition, they were labeled as “madmen”, dismissed from the realms of sanity. They were to serve as weighty precedents for the rest of the populace robbed off their very right to speak up on notions that they were averse to.

In terms of societal attitudes and responses, not much seems to have changed during the hundreds of years that bridge the Middle Ages and the postmodern age. An exegesis of the Pakistani society reveals that it indeed seems to be following the same operating procedures, blindly adhered to in the Middle Ages. If in the Middle Ages opinionated individuals were tagged as “madmen”, in the Pakistani postmodern age, the same psyche tends to permeate, and we end up tagging such individuals as “western agents” or the “mouthpiece of the west”, calling into question not only their patriotism but regressing to the extent of judging the credibility of their character.

This is what is pertinently manifested by the scathing criticism meted out by some quarters to Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy’s recent success at the Oscars, where her short film themed on honor killings, “A Girl in the River” won the award for the category of best documentary. What should have indeed qualified as a proud celebratory moment for Pakistan was sadly contoured with shades of apprehensions and disapproval since it ensued a strong battle of words between the supporters and scathing critics of Chinoy. It was sad to see how many called the director a pawn in the hands of the West, and contended that by projecting a rather grim and harrowing image of Pakistan, the director has gone to the extent of capitalizing it and ended up winning an Oscar for it.

Even for a miniscule amount of time, if one stands by what these critics contend, still the question arises is that if directors such as Sharmeen would not choose to document this aspect of Pakistani society , the deep set social ills that essentially mar the status quo, who will do so? With the excessive romance over dosage and dramatization in the commercial films being currently produced in Pakistan, could anyone expect a mind to be moved by what afflicts the rural women today? Can we really expect the conundrums of such women to be heard, women for whom existence lays in subservience to constricted social orders, negation of which in clichéd dishonors them for lives and for whom the salvage of such honor is brought about by their demise?

The very initiative to document such gory aspects of the Pakistani society is in fact an affirmation of the deeper malaise that afflicts us and it needs to be appreciated since in affirmation of an issue lies half of the cure. Affirmation qualifies as the first baby step towards conflict resolution. Till the moment we would not affirm and accept the gruesome state of affairs, the fact that every year around 1000’s of women continue to be victims of acid attacks and honor killings (UNHRC Report), there are little chances to even think of blaming, let alone endeavoring to put an end to such gory practices. The documentary hence, stands as an affirmation of the fact of how young girls are shackled in chains through the socially mutilated concept of honor.

It also needs to be realized that real films and documentaries being tinged with an educative purpose are rich in their essence. Chinoy’s documentary educates and awakes not only the common masses from their apathetic slumber, but has also managed to instill in the government a sense of responsibility, of the need to ensure the safety of the dwellers of the state, of putting an end to gender discordance , something that is enshrined in the constitution of the state. It is not that the existence of such harrowing crimes was denied or went unnoticed until now .It is only that the projection of such things in works of art reiterates the need and exigency of rendering dire efforts to curb them.

Perhaps the greatest activity brought about by the positive global reception to the documentary is that it has once again rightfully challenged the patriarchal dynamics of the Pakistani society, triggering the debate of male hegemony, and the negation of the inflated sense of “honor’ and “family egoism” as dictated by the society. With the Punjab Protection of Women Against Violence bill just recently passed, though largely opposed by the clergy who hold it as threat to male hegemony, and the PM’s encouraging statements at the screening of the film in Islamabad where he pledged to “rid Pakistan of the crime”, things seem to be heading in the right direction.

With the ball in the government’s court it needs to be seen how smart and comprehensive legislation is ushered in to thwart these tormenting evils, especially when in the past religious backlash has prevented the government from doing so. Also, at the same time, it needs to realized that mere legislation on the issue would not make any headway unless the laws are practiced in entirety. A case in point being the Honor Killings Act 2004, that was promulgated after an alarming increase in the cases of honor killings , however it made little headway as regards to punishing the perpetrators of the crime, who always managed to come clean of their sin.

Human nature barely changes without conscious effort. Where it has the potency to evolve, it has an equal and in fact an opposing tendency to devolve and to regress. Balancing these two extremes, is punctuated by a stasis like dynamics, where neither progression nor regression takes place. Instead things continue to be defined by their clichéd original and monotonous mode of existence. They essentially tend to be as they are, with slight modifications to suit the demands of the passing age. It is the dynamics of such stasis that define Pakistan at the moment, where it seems to have rarely evolved or transited from its initial position. Today, it is the Pakistani nation that needs to journey from that stasis to the evolving front, something that can be ensured by managing gender discordance and discrimination.

Instead of clinging onto the age-old hollow conventions of honor, that wrongfully legitimize killing, a societal overhaul needs to be ushered in. Such mindset needs to be generated which frees the rural women form the shackled positions of subalterns they are coerced to assume, a positive mindset that recognizes their worth and indispensability and a infuses a realization to abstain from subjecting women to ruthless modes of violence as a vent to male hegemony, since this is not what Muslims do, nor is it what humans do.