“A Girl in the River”

Oscar-nominated documentary profiles woman who survived attempted honor killing

A still from "A Girl in the River. (SOC Films/HBO)

When a Pakistani woman named Saba Qaiser was 19-years-old, she fell in love with a man and married him. Her family did not approve of the union, and so hours after Saba’s wedding, her father and her uncle drove her to a secluded spot by a riverbank, beat her, and shot her in the head. Then they packed her body into a sack and tossed her into the river.

Miraculously, Saba was only rendered unconscious — not killed — by the gunshot. She was revived upon hitting the water, and managed to crawl out of the sack. A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, an Oscar-nominated documentary by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, chronicles Saba’s remarkable story of survival. The film also delves into Saba’s pursuit of justice, which was hampered by permissive laws that turn a blind eye to murder when “honor” is on the line. After doctors saved Saba’s life, she was determined to prosecute her father and uncle, and they were arrested. But Pakistani laws will not indict a person for murder if the family of the victim extends an offer of forgiveness, and Saba faced intense pressure from her family to pardon her father and uncle. Eventually she complied, and the men who tried to kill her were released from prison.

Saba’s story did not reach a particularly satisfying conclusion, but her ordeal may help stem violence against other women. Upon congratulating Obaid-Chinoy for her Oscar nomination, Pakistani Prime Minister Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif vowed to crack down on honor killings perpetrated in the country.

Read the full story at the New York Times.


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