Faces that need saving…

Tariq Abid (Pakistan, UWC AC 2011-2013)

At this year’s Oscars, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy won the best documentary (short category). This was an auspicious moment not only for the makers of the film but also for the nation, as it happens to be Pakistan’s first Oscar award. However, what’s interesting is that Saving Face is much more than a just well-made piece of film, it cuts deep into an imperative issue that faces Pakistani society.

By exploring the plight of the victims of ‘acid attacks’, Saving Face exposes an injustice that continues as society remains in relative ignorance about it. An ‘acid attack’ is simply an act of throwing corrosive acid at someone. These are primarily targeted at women by members of family or society.

This is truly a gruesome act by any standards, yet still there remain those who justify it. A classic justification, taken partially under the refuge of the regionalist doctrine, is that the act has been carried out historically in the region and thus falls under the umbrella of cultural heritage, earning the sanctuary it needs to proceed.

I, personally harbour disdain for this argument. What undoes it in my opinion is its lack of relevance to culture, in the first place. The essential meaning of cultural heritage to a society is a set of associable concrete objects or norms that inspire pride in the adherents of the respective culture or society.  Now I am certain that any sane mind which has any acquaintance to our culture, would not hold the gruesome atrocities known as ‘acid attacks’ to be particularly worthy of any pride or inspiration. What it remains to be, is just an abhorrence that has coincidentally been carried out in intervals over the course of history. Thus, the justification falls apart even under a regionalist dogma.

A second type of justification is under the pretext of moral policing by society. Essentially, most acid attacks are perpetuated by those who accuse a female member of family/society of straying from a determined moral course, pertaining predominantly to marriages and affairs. Evidently there is a thinking that it is imperative that society enforce an elaborate code of conduct on every individual. How the emphasis of this code seems mainly to be on women is interesting. But what’s more important is that in such a social setup, society seems to usurp the role of the individual. Meaning that, it is assumed that the compliance of the individual to the moral code can be and should be forced.

The problem is, once force starts to fail, all the enforcers can do is keep coming up with harsher reprimands, which eventually fail again, followed again by even harsher reprimands and so and so forth. This cycle, in the process, embodies elements, who for whatever reasons, spring up to the aid of the waning enforcement authority and make use of the liberty therefrom.  As in this case, more often than not, the exploitation of this liberty is sinister, yet the moral enforcers keep shielding their ostensible allies.

Now this happens, regardless of the value of the moral dogma itself, which might well be worthy of observance. But perhaps, to secure this observance, it might be prudent to attract the vital observers through provoking thought and responsibility rather than repulsing them through the gruesomeness of a watchful authority. In the end, if such an approach fails to succeed entirely, that’s it. Overdoing it only leads to an abyss, as a result of which sometimes faces get mutilated. Even in a religious context, the role of the individual is conspicuous. It is clear, that the emphasis in the application of a moral code has to be on the individual, the absence of which is basically the end of it. When society goes in to fill this void, things get complicated and the gruesome forces its way in.

-United Words Team-

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