Spreading awareness on acid attacks through film

New Delhi: An Oscar winning film, which poignantly captured the trauma and helplessness of acid victims in Pakistan may soon be shown in India, says filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy who is finalising talks for the same here.

"A victim of acid attack anywhere in the world undergoes the same mental and physical agony. So the film even though it focuses on Pakistan it also speaks to all these different people. And any person who watches the documentary can find resonance with the victim," Sharmeen told PTI in an interview.

The filmmaker from Karachi who screened "Saving Face" that she co-directed with Daniel Junge here late last evening says a network from India has approached her for telecast rights.
Sharmeen shot the documentary to highlight the menace of acid violence that has shown to be a major crime against woman in the South Asian region.

Annually, over 100 cases – majorly women – are known to be victimised by brutal acid attacks while countless others go unreported, the film shows. With little or no access to reconstructive surgery, survivors are physically and emotionally scarred. Many reported assailants, often a husband or someone else close to the victim, receive minimal if any punishment from the state.

The situation is quite similar in India, say activists. "There are hardly any NGOs or safe houses for acid attack victims in India. For activists or social workers to get the number of cases of acid attack in India is like finding a needle in haystack. One cannot get the data as there is no particular IPC section under which this kind of criminal act fall under," said Alok Dixit, a social activist working with victims of acid attacks.

In 2011, Pakistan passed a stringent law to punish perpetrators and determined and courageous lawyers, activists and legislators behind the bill have been woven into the narrative of Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy`s documentary.

As acid attack survivors watched the proceedings, the Pakistan Senate unanimously passed the Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Bill, which imposes on perpetrators a prison sentence of 14 years to life and a fine of up to USD 11,160. "This landmark bill was passed when I was shooting the documentary, which was like a boon for me," says Sharmeen.

India is also set to have a section in the IPC to make acid attacks a separate offence punishable by a maximum of 10 years. The proposal mooted by Women and Child Development has got cabinet approval.

Sharmeen`s documentary features two protagonists who come from different mind sets. Zakia a 39-year-old woman is attacked by her husband after filing for divorce. She strives to find justice, alleviate pain and restore functioning and features to her face. Also, Rukhsana,23, is attacked by her husband and in-laws and forced to reconcile with them.

Recently, Sonali Mukherjee an acid attack victim from Jharkhand had demanded justice for herself from the government. She pleaded to either help her find justice or be permitted to end her life. "Acid attacks in India go unreported. Often, victims do not come forward and file a report or when they file a report it falls under section 326 of the IPC," says activist Alok Dixit.

Sharmeen says acid violence is a global phenomena. "It happens in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Uganda, Cambodia, Thailand, Bolivia, Nepal. In fact we have had requests from all these countries to showcase the film there," she says.

The filmmaker through her documentaries want to bring into limelight social issues which have been plaguing women in the South Asian Region. "The most important issue which we do not address is the issue of women. When the film came out I had many Indians who appreciated it and I thought this film could educate people across the globe," says Sharmeen.

Next on Sharmeen`s agenda is a documentary on Indo-Pak relations next year. "Right now I am exploring the possibilities of a joint project with an Indian filmmaker and hopefully some good news will come in the next 6 months. The idea behind the film will be to similarities between Indian and Pakistan. It will start a conversation between the next generation about how we see each other. Dispelling some of the myths we have about each other," says the 34 year-old filmmaker.