Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy was born in Karachi Pakistan, emigrated to Toronto, Canada and this passed weekend won an academy award here in Los Angeles for her short documentary film Saving Face. The film documents the plight of Pakistani women who are disfigured by having acid poured on them usually by relatives, husbands or rejected suitors. The acid damages the skin, sometimes exposes the underlying bones and often times causes blindness in one or both eyes. The film chronicles the efforts of a Pakistani born British plastic surgeon, Mohammad Jawad, to reconstruct their faces and restore their dignity. It is the first win for a Pakistani film. A win that instills pride and shame at the same time. Over 100 such attacks occur in Pakistan each year. Most go unreported and the women live secluded lives due to the circumstances surrounding these attacks (in the case of husband attackers they do so out of fear for their children) so the number of victims could even be double that. In the course of the film a girl describes being burned at age 13 for rejecting the advances of her teacher. In the Western world that teacher would have been prosecuted. Although it is rare a female Pakistani lawyer took up the legal case of one of the victims in the film and successfully managed to have the perpetrator convicted. Sadly these women require multiple operations to regain some resemblance of normal appearance. There is a report of a New Delhi India girl who underwent 25 reconstructive operations to treat disfiguring from acid burns.
The woman in the trailer with the severely disfigured face had acid thrown on her face by her husband after she had filed for divorce. It was almost as if half her face was wiped out. What was left was one eye, half a nose and a mouth that couldn’t smile. The prosthetic face mask she was fitted with was voluntarily made by Dubai-based Indian anaplastologist Daril B. Atkins
The film will debut on HBO television March 8, 2012.
A few random such attacks have occurred in the West such as the 2008 attack of a London England model and TV presenter Kate Piper who sustained an acid burn of the face inflicted by an ex-boyfriend and his accomplice. Those 2 men are now serving life sentences in a British prison. Pakistan’s Lower House of Parliament unanimously ratified the Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Bill On May 10, 2011. The bill calls for life imprisonment of assailants but to date prosecutions have been minimal.
Pakistan’s prime minister, Yusuf Raza Gilani, said Pakistan would confer on Obaid-Chinoy “the highest civilian award upon her return”.
“Pakistan is reportedly the third-most dangerous country in the world for women after Afghanistan and Congo…”. It was only a few years ago that there was a Time magazine cover photo of a young Afghan woman whose nose was cut off in retribution for a similar attack.