by Naila Sheikh – Houston, TX
The Oscar winning documentary begins with a gripping intro of Zakia, a 39 year old Pakistani woman, an unfortunate victim of an acid attack, holding her pictures and telling the camera on how passionate she used to feel in taking her own pictures when she would receive a set of new clothes from her family members. Just a normal occurrence for all of us, you’d think. In the picture you see a beautiful young woman posing with a face so innocent, so wholesome. That was then..
Her face now, wrapped in a veil, showing only one eye; the eye of a hopeful woman who despite losing half her facial features, still manages to stay humble and sensible. “I know I won’t ever again be as God made me”, she confidently speaks in front of the camera. “But hopefully it will get better for me”.
Her voice, full of conviction and faith takes me aback. Zakia is a brave woman, I think to myself. And from this point on, I want to learn more about her…I want to know her.
“He used battery acid. The highest quality and undiluted. It took one second to ruin my life completely. One second,” she recalls the details of her attack committed by her very own husband.
Dr. Mohammad Jawad who resides in London with a successful career as a plastic surgeon, travels to his homeland to operate on the burn victims in Pakistan’s Government Hospital where a free clinic is set up. The doctor, compassionate towards his patients, can’t help but show his utter disgust of the stories told by these women; stories of their husbands throwing acid, their sister-in-law throwing gasoline and the mother-in-law setting the poor woman on fire. The crude reality to the viewer is unimaginable and monstrous. The cruelty of her own husband, capable of committing such heinous acts, is sickening to the stomach. Furthermore, the participation of a sister-in-law and mother-in-law, both women, setting another woman on fire is horrifying and unbelievable.
“I just cannot understand this. I am trying not to be angry. I don’t want to hear these stories anymore.” the saddened physician shares.
A safehouse in Islamabad run by Acid Survivors Foundation holds group meetings for acid victims where these lovely women gather and share their pain with each other. I am amazed to see their strength through all their horrific experiences. Whilst most of us can say that our tribulations in life don’t leave (physical) marks, the women’s’ faces are permanent marks they have to live with each and every day. They unite and relief their sorrows by laughing it off, telling the group how they have come to accept themselves. I’m in awe, perplexed and surprised to see their positive attitudes – they’re extraordinary women.
Zakia’s court case against her husband is pending and handled by a female lawyer, Sarkar Abbas, who is especially passionate about women’s cases. She is fighting Zakia’s case free of charge. Women do not go to the Court to fight for justice.
“It would be great if we could set a precedent with Zakia’s case. They should remain in prison, like animals are confined in cages.”
Ten minutes into the documentary, I find myself nodding and wholeheartedly agreeing with the lawyer’s statement.
A meeting with a member of Parliament and the acid victims raises questions on how to bring justice to helpless women by enforcing laws of life imprisonment for the perpetrators. Marvi Memon, the member of Parliament, proposes the bill and urges the other members along with her supportive females colleagues to pass this bill. The bill gets unanimously passed. A small victory for the hopefuls of Pakistan.
As Zakia awaits the verdict on her court hearing, she is invited to the lawyer’s house where the lawyer explains the final verdict to Zakia. While watching this documentary, Zakia’s beautiful personality has captured my heart and I await the verdict in suspense with her – double life imprisonment? It’s true. Her husband will be double life sentenced. Vah vah! Justice prevailed. A precedent is set. A message delivered.
Zakia’s face was now to undergo surgery under the experienced hands of Dr. Jawad and the outcome was miraculous. Saving her face, the doctor not only brought normalcy back to Zakia’s life, but he also brought back her dignity. Zakia, a woman of such beautiful spirit, finally smiled and thanked God. I smiled looking at her with a tear streaming down my cheek. I didn’t know the effect of humanity would be this strong. It is what connects us and makes us aware of living. I am impressed by Dr. Jawad; I love his humor, his zest and passion for life, his determination to do as much we can, but as an individual there is only so much we can do, right?
The documentary leaves me with a warm feeling of hope, womanly courage and jubilation. I feel light and encouraged that there are people in Pakistan and Pakistanis abroad who care enough to make a difference. Hats off to Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy; I admire her, I applaud her, I salute her! Her vision and her efforts are truly shown in her work as well as her concern and love for abused women. Incredible work, indeed.
To watch Saving Face, visit the film’s facebook page for more information.