Whose face are we trying to save?

Published: July 2, 2012

In light of the evidence provided thus far, rumours about Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s unscrupulous conduct are just plain hogwash. PHOTO: REUTERS/FILE

Bina Shah has raised some pertinent points in her op-ed for The Express Tribune. Refusing to accept the allegations levelled against Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, she implies that Rukhsana is being threatened by her family to claim financial compensation from the documentary film-maker.

More significantly, Bina asserts that this reality has been obscured by the elite-bashing and a more cohesive approach is needed to understand this issue.

Ironically, the op-ed has been criticised for propagating the same elitist narrative that it condemns. This reflects the inconvenient truth about our nation being constantly obsessed with defending the underdog rather than objectively examining the facts.

While I admit that Rukhsana’s plight reflects a serious human rights violation, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy is not her perpetrator.

Instead she is the dynamic force that has brought Rukhsana’s traumatic story to an international audience. The culprits, in this case, are the socio-economic problems that plague the common man and the prevalent position of patriarchy in our society which threatens women into submission.

These have produced an array of challenges which have led the couple to seek financial compensation through unscrupulous means from Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy. Rukhsana and her husband are demanding a five-marla (126 square-metre) house, Rs3,000,000 and plastic surgery to compensate them for their roles in the film.

Some observations can be drawn from the evidence that is available to us in relation to this conundrum.

It must be noted that prior to filming, Rukhsana and her husband agreed to appear in Saving Face and were asked to sign a consent form. As a result, they were aware of the nature and content of the documentary and willingly decided to make an appearance in it.

While Rukhsana and her husband expected to receive financial compensation for featuring in the documentary, this is not a common practice, or even a point of law to sue the film-maker, unless it had been promised to her in writing.

According to Sharmeen, no such promises were made. Quite the opposite, however, took place; a donor for the film offered to buy the couple a house to which, Rukhsana and her husband refused– ostensibly with the intention of extorting more money from the Oscar award-winning film-maker. Although it isn’t fair to presuppose anyone’s intentions in such matters, but Rukhsana’s sudden change of attitude towards Saving Face opens up a portal to such assertions.

When the documentary was released, she was delighted that someone had finally summoned the strength to portray such forms of exploitation as a raw and searing reality. Rukhsana’s recent diatribe against Sharmeen is in direct contradiction to her adulation for the film. This sudden change of heart reveals the shocking degree to which female exploitation pervades in our society. However, it does not come as a surprise as many women are victims of domestic abuse and subsequently accept such maltreatment as their destiny.

On the flip side of the coinSaving Face presents an honest appraisal of how Rukhsana’s husband used brute force to ensure that she does not walk out on him and even threatened to separate her from her daughter. Call it scepticism or even a mere conjecture, but it seems all the more likely that Rukhsana’s husband has exerted extreme pressure on her to tarnish Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s reputation in hopes to extract money from her.

Despite the fact that people sympathise with Rukhsana for the quagmire she finds herself in, her conduct is a disturbing portrayal of gratitude towards a woman who highlighted her dilemmas on a global scale.

But it would be completely unjustified to attribute blame to Rukhsana entirely. After all, she is merely a victim who is weighed down by the social pressure to conform.

According to the evidence put forward by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, the complainant changed her mind about having Dr Mohammad Jawad perform plastic surgery on her. Why she decided to reject such an offer remains a mystery although anyone with common sense would safely infer that her family played a role in persuading her to back out.

In light of the evidence provided thus far, rumours about Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s unscrupulous conduct are just plain hogwash. In fact, she tweeted that Rukhsana is a victim and needs help.

It is easy to point fingers and distort this issue into a battle between the elitist mindset and the overall interests of the poor and downtrodden. But the issue is far more intricate. It requires us to understand that justice is not a question of winning or losing. On the contrary, it is about balancing competing interests in an acceptable and pragmatic manner. As events unfold, both Sharmeen and Rukhsana stand the risk of being defamed or, to put it in another sense, having their human rights infringed.

To ensure that the right balance of justice is achieved a more detailed enquiry is needed to unravel the complexities of the issue. At this stage, it seems that those who are rallying in support for Rukhsana have embarked on a futile cause that threatens to perpetuate the exploitation of women and conceals the evil machination of a man who is using his wife for a financial gain.

This raises a critical question about our priorities as a society.

Whose faces are we really trying to save?

The face of an oppressed woman who allows herself to be used as a pawn by her abusive husband or the face of a woman who has shown a strong commitment to bringing forward the interests of several oppressed women?

It is vital that we answer this question not just for ourselves, but also for the women caught in this ugly tug of war.

Read more by Taha here or follow him on Twitter @TahaKehar


Taha Kehar

A blogger on social events and has previously worked as Assistant Editor for a media magazine. He is currently pursuing Law Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies. He tweets @TahaKehar.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Sane

    What service did Ms. Chinoy did for Pakistan or peoples of Pakistan? Winning Oscar is just a personal gain. She always focused the ugly side of Pakistan in her works.Recommend

  • asif

    Sharmeen is being punished for doing a good thing.The woman’s husband and parents are pressurising her to get more money for them by pressurising sharmeen.this is disgraceful behaviour and the man who threw acid on her face will end up benefitting the most from this entire episode.Rukhsana has gone back to the very man who burned her with acid.As long as women continue to do this and staying with their abusers they can’t expect their societal condition to improve.Recommend

  • Zubair

    Whose* face. A little proof reading please. Recommend

  • Salma Khan

    Naiki kar,dariya may daal.Sharmeen is now facing blackmail by the very person she tried to help.All that matters is money,the woman’s husband wants to profit off his act of acid throwing,he belongs in a jail,not out in public,first he threw acid on his wife,now he’s pressurising her to extort money from sharmeen chinory.This shows the true greedy,hypocritical face of a section of our society.Recommend

  • Ebi

    I am literally fed of seeing such women going again and again to the people and being exploited by the ones who kick them in the rear!! Ye is jagah tak apni na-ehli aur jahalat ki wajah se pohanchtay hain!!Recommend

  • Sane

    Being opportunist Ms. Chinoy encashed the efforts of Dr. Jawwad who dedicated himself to give faces to acid burnts. His devotion and greatness was never acknowledged even by Ms. Chinoy.Recommend

  • http://www.facebook.com/007Zone Habibies

    i think her Son saying her… MOM plz don’t lie or MoM plz silent aur sabar se kaam lo :( :)Recommend

  • -_-

    Oh you all sharmeen fans, ok she did win oscar (which many believe she did not deseve) but does that mean she has become invulnerable to every other thing? Is she a holy priest?

    She did violate not only human rights but also the trust poor imposed upon her, she used her like a showpiece for her own fame and applause.

    She must face the fate she deserveRecommend

  • Fahad

    @Sane: Obaid has highlighted an extremely important issue in saving face, and a simple google search on her other films would show you that she has constantly been bringing up social issues that are of grave importance to our society. Surely the intention behind this work was to raise awareness, winning accolades and awards like the Oscar is just an added bonus.Recommend

  • Sane

    Will she ever make a documentary on Edhi Ambulance Service…..Sailani Welfare Trust, Alamgir Welfare Trust…..Cheepa Welfare …..Khana Ghar.and more and more. All these are trying their best to support poor & under privilege faction of society. They are doing amazing job, just unbelievable. She needs to know as how many people get their free bread everyday. How many rickshaws were provided to unemployed to earn bread for them and their families. How many people are given medical treatment free of cost everyday. Many must be knowing that per capita charity given in Pakistan is highest in the world.

    Will she do something about the free legal aid services (By Justice Retd. Nasir Aslam Zahid & other God fearing lawyers) to those who can not afford hefty sums for lawyers

    Would Ms. Sharmeen shall show this bright side to the world instead of showing dark side always.Recommend

  • Marr

    True, leken jahalat ki wajah hamara apna maashra he. Yeh sirf unn ki ghalati nahi he, hum sab ki he.Recommend

  • Marr

    I don’t understand why everyone is bashing Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy for bringing this issue to light. Yes, there are innumerable amazing things about Pakistan and its society but there is indeed a dark side. For everyone who thinks that she should be highlighting the good in our society, out your money where your mouth is and do it yourself. She picked up on an issue and made people aware of it. Wanting such things to not be exposed is like begging for oblivion– which in turn leads to nothing being done about anything. Recommend

  • asad

    @Express Tribune

    Stop supporting that culprit!! what you got for this article Dollars or Pounds??Recommend

  • saira haque

    @sane, Oh so you havent watched the HO YAQEEN series then- ITS ALL POSITIVE! do your research before lambasting someone-Recommend

  • http://tribune.com.pk ABC

    i was shocked to know that sharmeen herself admitted she met with both husband and wife for consent letter signing,, the husband?? the very same person who threw acid on Rukhsana bibi? why sharmeen met with her culprit?only because story of the poor lady was more important rather than the ethics? and she was in dire need to cast this poor lady?? isn’t so mr. author///Recommend

  • Kashif Khan

    @ABC, when did Sharmeen say she met with the culprit for letter signing? Islamic Help said their representative met with them to buy the house- what is going on here? why are u spreading more rumours? Recommend

  • Kanwal

    Really? winning an Oscar for your country is no honor? If she has made a documentary on the Drone attacks, you would say she is showing Pakistan in a negative light because the drone attacks show how Pakistan Army is impotent and unable to stand up for its own people and is hand in hand with the USA for just the money they get in return.
    People like you would probably say Nobel Prize was given to Abdus Salam for being a Ahmadi?Recommend

  • Fazal

    @Sane — She’s actually been campaigning to get Edhi a Nobel Prize. WHAT HAVE YOU DONE? No one here is talking about helping Rukhsana, because of Sharmeen everyone in the world has access to this woman’s story. People, Pakistani all over the world think they can help in making a difference. You people are a disgrace to this country.

    Have you seen Ho Yaqeen? On our local channels? All about heroes of Pakistan? Recommend

  • http://tribune.com.pk ABC

    @Kashif Khan: when rukhsana bibi’s issue highlighted on media, in response sharmeen were took on phone line by the tv person and she spoke exactly what i wrote above..pls google it, listen it and then comment …Recommend

  • faraz

    According to Bina Shah article:

    “Obaid-Chinoy says that a donor promised to buy Rukhsana a house”

    A promise is a contract according to law. It is binding. Recommend

  • ProjectPigeon

    The commendable act is not whether she performed a tangible service or not, but the fact that Sharmeen Obaid raised awareness about the country internationally.
    Why is it that we see huge number of volunteers from all over the world trying to save the starving and diseased children in Africa? Why is it that KONY 2012 ignited such a huge response (as futile as it turned out to be) in little as twenty-four hours?
    It is because people all over the world know that many Africans are suffering and they know this because of all the pop culture portrayal of the country. As Pakistanis, we should get off our high horses and false illusions that the governments will help us save the people of this country. It is not the governments, here or elsewhere’s, that will provide us with the funds and resources needed to cure the Pakistani population of disease, abuse, illiteracy or poverty, but it is the general public all over the world. Pakistan is a developing country and there is no shame in that because it will one day develop, and this development will only occur if we are neither apathetic nor ashamed to let people know what we need. Pride can destroy even the best of nations, if they do not know how to ask for help when they need it, and Pakistan needs help.Recommend

  • Indie

    @faraz a donor and not her. She’s been very clear about that throughout. Recommend

  • http://whos-face-are-we-trying-to-save Jakir Hussain

    Why our judiciary has not taken up the case of Rukhsana? Arresting and prosecuting her husband is only the right way for a responsible judiciary.Recommend

  • Anonymous


    Why people are not writing anything about the killings of Muslims in Burma? Where are those humanitarians? Where are those so called tolerant peace loving people who yells all the time taking the killing of any Hindu or Christian as an excuse and go on to bash and defame Islam?Recommend

  • John

    You Pakistanis don’t deserve Sharmeen- I hope she loves away and makes films in some other country- anywhere in the world an Oscar winner is celebrated but pakistan is so screwwed up that u like to screw your winners- no wonder your country has issues bro.
    Sharmeen move back to canada and leave pakis-Recommend

  • Adil hasan

    Just to inform all the readers and those who are commenting on this blog, Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy time and again has focused her energy on bring social justice issues to light in the hope that awareness will be created and the oppressed will be given a voice. While she promoted saving face, she constantly maintained the stance that this is an issue that is being dealt with, for all those who have seen the movie, it is a movie that ends on a positive note, that shows a progressive Pakistan and one that is inspired for change. It is very easy to sit behind our computers and bash a woman who has consistently proven her worth and it saddens me to the very core that Pakistanis are such heinous nation that they are unwilling to give anyone a fair chance. The reason why this country does not progress is because we are our own worst enemy; instead of searching for evidence, we doubt our fellow citizens. Open your eyes, Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy put Pakistan on the world map for something POSITIVE after a very long time. @ SANE: you are an educated person, or so i am led to believe. Kindly do your research before you become one of those ignorant haters who choose to bash this woman. It is not about being a sharmeen “fan” it is about the truth. Dr. Jawad attended the oscars with Sharmeen and is supporting her every step of the way. he knows the truth about Rukhsana and doesnt need fame or fortune to get him by. As for all those people who think Sharmeen earned her millions through saving face, i hope you realize that when she won the oscar she dedicated it to the heroes in Pakistan and to all the women, she made it less about her and more for the country and no she isnt rolling in dough because of this film. life is more about money but being from Pakistan, it seems thats all anyone cares about.

    It seems Pakistanis are not a nation worth fighting for at all, Sharmeen did a brilliant thing and instead of supporting her we are the first ones willing to throw her under the bus. Shame on all of you that doubt her but dont so much as know her. Recommend

  • Ameen

    “In light of the evidence provided thus far, rumours about Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s unscrupulous conduct are just plain hogwash. In fact, she tweeted that Rukhsana is a victim and needs help.”
    I’m sorry, but what kind of non-journalistic writing is this newspaper starting to publish? You are using the fact that Sharmeen tweeted some rubbish as evidence that she gives a dam about this woman? This piece of writing has just made a firm conclusion on a hugely controversial public debate, by referring to nothing other than some tweet.
    How thoroughly disappointing!
    A word of advice: If you have nothing worth saying, it is better to stay quiet!Recommend

  • Aamir Shahzad

    @ salma khan
    first learn the actual meaning of “NAIKI KAR DARYA MAIN DAL” then use it. it means do good and forget it, a good deed should be done and forgotton at the same time for doing more good deeds. if we rely on a deed which was done a decade ago it means we’ve ruined a decade.
    i dont whats between sharmeen and rukhsana? if sharmeen has made any promise to rukhsana it should be full filled. jiska koi ehed nahi uska koi deen nahe
    good faithRecommend

  • Aamir Shahzad

    @ salma khan
    first learn the actual meaning of “NAIKI KAR DARYA MAIN DAL” then use it. it means do good and forget it, a good deed should be done and forgotton at the same time for doing more good deeds. if we rely on a deed which was done a decade ago it means we’ve ruined a decade.
    i dont whats between sharmeen and rukhsana? if sharmeen has made any promise to rukhsana it should be full filled. jiska koi ehed nahi uska koi deen nahe

  • faraz


    It’s simple. Rukhsana still lives her husband who threw acid on her; this confirms that she participated in the documentary to earn money and not to inspire others. Rukhsana, an illiterate lady, didn’t know the fine difference between Sharmeen and the donor, and thought that both are part of the same team. Rukhsana is now demanding her money, while Sharmeen is saying that she has nothing to do with the donor. Rukhsana was duped into doing this documentary. Recommend

  • Critical

    Leave about the compensation

    Can anyone please tell me why her scheming husband is not in jail???
    Isnt throwing acid with an attempt to injure someone not punishable by law???Recommend

  • Anthony Permal

    Agreed with Critical.

    All the self-righteous folk fighting and arguing over Sharmeen being an opportunist, the fact that NONE of you have asked for the biggest culprit of all – the acid throwing husband – to be thrown in jail says a LOT about your real personalities and characters.


  • Waris

    @Ameen: Fine-tune your thinking a bit. It’s the 21st century. Twitter is a source of useful information and is a significant instrument of reporting. As far as the conclusion is concerned, the article has made plenty – which fit the criteria for journalistic skill and exonerate Sharmeen through practical thought.Recommend

  • Waris

    @Anthony Permal: These people never learn! They are just resentful. Everything in their twisted heads is about how to harm people’s reputations and make their achievements seem worthless. And it’s a cherry on top of the cake if they can criticize some talented people by calling them elitist and exploitative… I mean, the woman you’re trying to defend is clearly suffering from domestic abuse. Help her understand that she’s in a state of misery. Don’t ruin more lives with your filthy thoughts.
    As the writer says, don’t blindly follow the underdog. Try and understand the reality. Recommend

  • Muhammad Ali Akhtar

    Just TWO Word for this Article:
    Complete BSRecommend

  • salma

    I think its sad that some literate Pakisatanis feel that Ms. Chinoy has highlighted the issues that Plague this country for personal gain. Im not sure how else one can bring attention to the cause if we do not bring attention to it – worldwide people have donated millions of Rupees to school and Hospitals – in Pakistan after watching her Documentary – there isnt a dry eye in the audiences sitting in New York – Chicago, London, Berlin and worldwide in the Auditoriums showcasing her work – after each viewing people ask her they can donate to the causes so that women like Zakia and Rukhsana have a better future for their children! Winning an oscar, emmy and many accolades are just a feather in the hat!
    The woman is a passionate filmmaker who has collaborated with Coke studio to bring awareness to local heros – she has helped Afghani refugees living in camps, she has rallyed for Edhi to win a nobel peace prize – she has founded CAP – Citizens Archives of Pakistan to document Pakistans History and celebrate the war heros who built the nation!
    She deserves her fellow Pakistanis words of encouragement and support to go on to do better and greater things!Recommend

  • faraz

    @Anthony Permal

    I appreciate the work of Sharmeen, and consider it’s a proud moment for the country. It brought the issue to the mainstream and forced the government to legislate. But your question should be directed towards Sharmeen who earned an Oscar over her client’s misery. Why hasn’t Sharemeen, an activist (or just film producer), filed a case against her husband? And what are the socio or psychological reasons that led Rukhsana to pardon her husband?

    Rukhsana said in an interview that she had pardoned her husband and mother-in-law (who had thrown acid on her) and got them released yet the sword of divorce is still hanging on her. She maintained that she opted the way of reconciliation for the future of her three children little children. So what does this tell about my personality? Couldn’t get the connection you are trying to make. Is Rukhsana the evil character who pardoned her husband and called Sharmeen an opportunist?Recommend

  • Anonymous

    Difference of opinions is the sign of thinking minds.I am encouraged to see the variety of opinions and hopeful that our elite is on the right path.btw.Acid victim is living happily with her husband,makers of documentary got the Oscar,what are we debating about? Recommend

  • Ali

    I was expecting the other side of the story, the non-elite point of view. Sigh! it’s ET.Recommend

  • ayesha

    I think people bashing sharmeen obaid chinoy are “parlay likhay jahil” who can’t appreciate brilliant work . Sharmeen is a true star and has inspired many to say the least. She won an oscar for a reason ( SHE DESERVED IT DUH!!!)

    we as pakistanis wonder why we can’t progress as a nation whereas our neighbors have done phenomenally well. The answer is quite simple. Our neighbors support their country’s citizens they feel happy and proud of their achievements and success. On the contrary, we as a nation are a FAILED nation and cause. How can we ever progress in life when all we can ever do is point fingers and criticize the work of a handful of brilliant pakistanis.

    I wish i could be sharmeen obaid chinoy and bring glory to our nation. In such few years of her career she has achieved so much that most of us can only dream of achieving. As pakistanis she is the FIRST and ONLY oscar achiever. So all you haters, stop hating just because you CANT EVER BE SHARMEEN CHINOY!.

    Sharmeen Chinoy has created history and we are VERY PROUD! And for all of you who haven’t achieved much in life (CLEARLY) go ahead and take out your frustration on blogs like these bashing pakistan’s finest STAR!Recommend

  • ali

    why do we have so many HATERS in pakistan. No wonder we still remain a third world nation today while our neighbors have progressed in life

    we are our own WORST enemy.

    Sharmeen Chinoy is a born STAR she has inspired many, and in such a short span of time in her career has achieved so much that many only DREAM of achieving,



    Most of those writing these nasty comments are clearly not doing well in life have miserable jobs and are outright jealous as they were never famous. Get a grip u morons.


    YOU ARE AMAZING.Recommend

  • rahul

    You guys are one messed up nation. It’s not your politicians that are holding you back. It’s your mindset.Recommend

  • Waris

    This is a non-elite point of view. It is both practical and useful.Recommend

  • A Iqbal

    In rukhsana’s first part of interview, its clear they’re not her words, from the way she breaks up the sentences( during which her brain sends signals from what it had previously revised a list to of things to say). But the second part looks easier to her, but from the tone its clear she’s speaking ampty words. its true she’s been told what to say in this interview-as said by her husband.Recommend

  • Sane

    Mind your own business. First sort out problems at your home before to interfere others. You send spies and terrorist to neighboring countries and criticize other. Refer confessions of Kashmir Singh, Surjeet Singh & Surbajit Singh. How many more are here and how many to come?Recommend

  • Sane

    @Anthony Permal
    The acid throwing husband is in India and taken political asylum (probably). Please find him and send back here to punish.Recommend

  • rahul

    @Sane: I’m a Pakistani based abroad. I’ve lived my entire life in America. Just because my name is Indian-sounding you start bashing me out? WOW. My parents shifted from Pakistan after General Zia took over and they were prohibited from practicing their theatre. They were all praises for the country (the pre-Zia era, of course). After reading the comments here, I feel they made the right choice leaving at that stage. The country has gone to the dogs. The mindset seems far too archaic. From the stories my parents told me, Pakistan was nothing like this. Narrow-mindedness is the root of your problem, Sane. Try to look at things from a broader perspective. Recommend

  • Sane

    My apologies for misunderstanding you as Indian. But, bro! what is broader perspective? When Muslim are killed anywhere in the world…no problem. When Islam and Muslims are abused…. no problem. Just please find out the no. of Muslims killed and Masajids were raised in different countries in just last 20 years. And also count how many non Muslims were killed by Muslims and how many Mandirs, Pagodas, Churches were raised by Muslims. The comparison would be eye opening. If you mean ‘broader perspective’ is just to keep silent on all such atrocities against Muslims and label Muslims as extremists and terrorist, I humbly differ. Write against Muslims, speak against them and act against them just on the basis of religion. Then sorry this is not ‘Broader Perspective’.Recommend