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On LUBP’s ridiculous criticism of Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy – by Bina Shah

When Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and Daniel Junge won the Oscar in March for their short documentary Saving Face, about the victims of acid attacks in Pakistan, the entire nation erupted in joy. Obaid-Chinoy was hailed as a “daughter of the nation” (a phrase which makes me cringe with its chauvinistic, nationalist overtones) and suddenly everyone wanted a piece of her glory. “How do you know Sharmeen?” became the question of the day and it seemed that everybody had some tale of being best friends with her since childhood.

Fair enough, that’s part of being an international celebrity — the sycophancy, the obsequiousness, the hangers-on — and any person who’s properly grounded will know better than to let it sway her too much. But there’s a darker side of success: some will attempt to gain financially by their connection to the celebrity, especially if large sums of money are involved in that success. And that’s exactly what’s happened now, with one of the women featured in the documentary, Rukhsana, claiming that Obaid-Chinoy promised her three million rupees and a house, but never delivered.

For those of you who haven’t seen the documentary, Rukhsana was the woman who had acid thrown on her face by her husband, but instead of leaving him like Zakia did, Rukhsana stayed with both him and his family because they told her that if she walked out, she’d never see her young daughter again. Rukhsana also had to postpone her surgery with Dr Mohammed Jawad because she fell pregnant and the doctor told her it was unsafe to carry on with their plans to rebuild her face in those circumstances. Although the doctor returned to Pakistan in April of this year and offered to perform the surgery on her at this time, she refused for reasons which are unclear.

At the time of filming, Rukhsana signed a consent form to appear in the documentary, but it’s obvious that she and her husband’s family were expecting that there would be financial benefits to the participation. However, documentary subjects are usually not paid for their appearing in these films. Obaid-Chinoy says that a donor promised to buy Rukhsana a house, but that Rukhsana’s familyviewed some houses and then refused to buy any, hoping to hold out for more money instead. Since then, she has gone to the media with her allegations against Obaid-Chinoy and says she will sue the film-maker for compensation.

Obaid-Chinoy had promised that any profits from airing the documentary in Pakistan would go to the victims of acid throwing featured in the movie and to the Acid Survivors Foundation (ASF). But Rukhsana and the ASF filed a civil suit, which stopped the airing of the movie in the country, citing concerns for their safety, with which Obaid-Chinoy duly obliged. Yet, Obaid-Chinoy stands firm that no wrongdoing has occurred in her dealings with Rukhsana. “In my 11 years as a documentary maker, 16 films across 10 countries, this has never happened before,” she said in a series of tweets on social media site Twitter. “She has been coerced into this by her family. She needs psychological and medical help.”

What’s astonishing is that with this latest controversy, Obaid-Chinoy is now being attacked by people on both the right and left wing of the political spectrum. Abdul Nishapuri of the Let Us Build Pakistan website that raises awareness about the killings of Shias and Baloch minorities, says rather ridiculously that the controversy “highlights the selective morality and urban elitist bias of the Pakistani elite”. Equally ridiculously, conservatives are blaming Obaid-Chinoy for making Pakistan “look bad” in the eyes of the world. But Haroon Riaz, another blogger and amateur photographer, perhaps, describes it best when he says, “The fact that Chinoy won the Oscar will always hurt the wounded pride of acid-throwing Pakistani males”.

What’s important to remember, in the end, is that the very man who threw acid on Rukhsana’s face is now demanding money from Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy; this boils down to him wanting financial compensation for having disfigured his own wife. I can’t help being reminded of the countless beggar children on the streets of Karachi with their limbs twisted and amputated, hands stretched out for money day after day between the lines of traffic. The people who send them out to beg know that there’s more money in remaining a victim than becoming a survivor. If being embroiled in this kind of diabolical business is the price of fame, I certainly don’t envy Obaid-Chinoy or her Oscar one bit. Do you?

Source: The Express Tribune, June 30th, 2012. 

About the author

Abdul Nishapuri


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  • Personally I welcome Bina Shah’s criticism and look forward to constructive evaluation of LUBP’s stance on various matters.

  • Two opposite views from ET comments section:

    Jun 30, 2012 – 4:17AM

    Just tell me one thing. Sharmeen got to parade on red carpet with Hollywood celebrities, got numerous paid invitations for talks and tons of business for her company because of this documentary. What did the three victims got? Still claiming to have no elitist entitlement, you ladies Bena? What is the difference between you and male chauvinists who claim to have no male privilege.Tell me what was wrong in Abdul Neshapuri’s comment.

    Jul 2, 2012 – 1:16PM

    Sharmeen should pay some compensation to the victims as they have come forward and took the immense risk to promote awareness in others – it’s not as simple in Pakistan as you describing!!!
    Abdul Nishapuri, could be bit harsh but, showing the reality!


    Jul 1, 2012 – 11:59PM

    Saving Face is a documentary that brought to light the plight of poor women in our country and the fact is that the educated are risking their lives to bring out this tabooed issue so that the establishment is then forced to make/change laws to help these women. I respect and am proud of SOC’s work and films….unfortunately this is the only way these social issues are taken heed off and the country jolted to help. Well done SOC!

    Jun 30, 2012 – 11:20AM

    For all those who are speaking so eloquently and brazenly about Sharmeen not fulfilling her promises, for their information documentaries are made to create awareness among the masses of what happens in not only Pakistan but anywhere in the world. This does not mean you can go ahead and blackmail the very people who have the decency to look into your problems and to provide support. This documentary was not about one Rukhsana but thousand others. What Sharmeen did is commendable and she should not only be praised for it but be supported through it all.

  • I received the following message by a friend:

    “At least they have to concede that you are on left of political spectrum and highlighting attrocities against Shia and Baloch. Criticism from such people shows that you are doing a great job. Just a friendly suggestion as you have always been kind to let me speak my mind to you. Sophistication and rigour in the critiques LUBP publishes will only help it reach people who can make difference.”

  • I commend Abdul on his views and the efforts to raise more sensitive issues effecting lives of millions also agree to the message sent by his friend.

  • Bina Shah, a bimbo of the Burger elite of Pakistan. What else can you expect from a brain dead bimbo?

  • I am an HINDU ,in war we killed Pakistanis, not because they are ISLAMIC ,because that is, part of a war,I have never seen such a disgusting video in my life

  • I am an HINDU ,in war we killed Pakistanis, not because they are ISLAMIC ,because that is, part of a war,I have never seen such a disgusting video in my life about SIALKOT TWO BROTHER MURDER AS WATCHED ON YOU TUBE.
    Pakistan must improve its public image otherwise our soldiers will have a very bad assumption about PAKIS.

  • Once again LUBP is going after cool European liberals like Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, Hamid Mir, Ejaz Haider, Ansar Abbasi and the Marvi sisters Sirmed and Memon.