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Murdered by my father: A review

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Murdered by my father. Source: BBC

Originally published for Sedaa on April 4, 2016

 

“Someone’s always watching. Trust me.”

These are the words uttered by college student Salma in the BBC 3 drama Murdered By My Father, as she warns her boyfriend to stay away before someone finds out that they are dating.

We have all been there, have we not ladies? Most of us, from South Asian or Middle Eastern backgrounds, where the notions of honour and shame are so important, have always been — and always will be — on our guards whenever we leave the house. Because no matter what you are doing, someone, somewhere, is always bound to catch you out and report you to your parents. Even when you least expect it. Even when what you are doing is entirely innocent it does not matter. Once word gets out it can blemish a reputation you must keep clean. Women will sometimes pay for this transgression with their lives.

Written by Vinay Patel, Murdered By My Father is a harrowing drama based on testimonials from survivors of ‘honour’ abuse. It tells the story of Salma (played fantastically by Kiran Sonia Sarwar), a young woman who lives on an estate with her widower father Shahzad (Adeel Akhtar) and younger brother Hassan (Reiss Jeram).

Like many girls of her age, Salma has a boyfriend, Imi (Mawaan Rizwan), except she has to keep it all a secret from her family and the wider community or else there will be hell to pay. Unfortunately for Salma, she is already promised to someone in marriage — the bland and unremarkable Haroon (Salman Akhtar). It is a painful reminder that her life is not hers, but simply on lease until the time comes for her family members, her community, to reclaim what was never hers. We belong to our fathers, brothers, husbands and the wider community. We are not individuals.

There is a scene in which Shahzad sees his daughter’s pink bra in the bathroom, a symbol that she is no longer a girl, but a woman, a sexual being who is a potential threat to his honour — that bullshit word that is a noose around most women’s necks.

“You carry all of us,” Shahzad explains to his daughter. “I get scared because when they look at you, they see me. You fail, I fail. When you’re safe, I’m safe. When you get married then I can die happy.” This type of emotional blackmail is often deployed as a tactic to ensure females toe the line. Shahzad is not portrayed as a monster, but a man who is trying to do right by both his family and the community. But the latter always wins in the end. It is important that we see this side of Shahzad first to show that these people can switch from loving parents to monsters who will take their children’s lives.

We see Salma and Imi meeting up secretly throughout the drama, savouring their moments of happiness because you know — as we all know painfully too well — that they can be snatched away from you in next to no time. On the day of her engagement, Salma is seen by her fiancé, kissing her boyfriend goodbye. The family and guests are allowed to enjoy their food, unaware of the storm that is about to be unleashed upon them.

 

 

And, inevitably, Salma is shamed and dishonoured. The ‘shame’ is also on Shahzad. He has no honour left because he failed to keep his “slag” of a daughter in check. “Take care of your filth!” Haroon spits at the man who will no longer be his father-in-law.

Salma’s younger brother is caught in the middle, wanting to do right by both his father and his big sister, the same sister who doubled as a mother-figure. Younger siblings are routinely put in the cruel position of spying on their siblings, to make sure they’re not up to no good.

Shahzad locks his daughter in a room and we see him fingering a blade, an ominous sign of what will happen. Salma manages to escape to her boyfriend’s house and they make plans to run away together, but she bravely decides to go back home the day after, to make mends, to apologise to her dad. She has nothing to actually apologise for — her only ‘crime’ was to have fallen in love, for wanting to live a life on her own terms and not dictated to by centuries-old honour codes.

Don’t go back, you plead to her. But you remember the title of the drama and you almost wish it weren’t a prediction. Poor Hassan is sent to the shop by his father to buy some sweets, not realising it’s the last time he will see his loving big sister alive.

She naively assumes it will all be okay if she apologises. After all, isn’t that what parents are supposed to do — forgive their children when they make a mistake? But not this time. There will be no forgiveness.

“I did everything for you,” Shahzad shouts at her. “I never asked for anything in return — only that you listen to me in one thing.”

She replies: “You asked me for loads. You just don’t know that you’re doing it.”

In the end it’s not the blade, but her father’s own hands that take away her life. The hands that had once fed her, clothed her, and even embraced her, are the very hands that take away the life he helped create. Shahzad then tries to take his own life, perhaps repulsed by his actions or, more likely, unable to face the community again after ‘losing face’ over this ‘shame’.

What I loved about Salma’s character is that she continued to fight until the very end. She could easily have been portrayed as meek and submissive, and given in to her father’s demands by marrying someone whom she did not love — just for the sake of her ‘honour’. Others will not have had that choice.

I am not ashamed to admit that it made me cry for hours afterwards. I wept for the many, many girls and women whose lives are taken for the sake of ‘honour’. I wept for the girls who were forced to choose between their family or controlling their own destiny. I wept for those girls who could no longer fight back and submitted to the family pressure.

And I wept because I knew that Salma could easily have been me.

Murdered by My Father is available to watch on BBC iPlayer.

Nirbhaya – fearless women break the silence

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IMG_20150602_083149A shorter, amended version of this review was first published in the Oldham Chronicle on June 2

When a young woman was brutally gang-raped in the Indian capital Delhi on December 16, 2012, and subsequently died 13 days later, there was a  worldwide outcry.

What followed was even more harrowing, that being the countless women who broke the silence to tell us that this was not the exception, but the norm.

Nirbhaya marries real-life testimonies with a dramatised recreation of what happened to Jyoti Singh Pandey, the 23-year-old student whom the media dubbed “Nirbhaya”, or fearless.

Internationally acclaimed playwright and director Yael Farber brings a blistering evocation of that terrible night and the ripples of change it set in motion. Presented by the Southbank Centre, the play came to Oldham’s Grange Theatre as part of the Alchemy Festival 2015.

Priyanka Bose, Poorna Jagannathan, Sneha Jawale and Pamela Sinha describe their bodies as no longer being their own, as we witness the daily harassment and groping in the bustling streets of a city littered with the relics of lost empires, a city now described as “hell on earth for women”.

                                                      Poorna Jaggannathan

The play uses the rape and death of Jyoti as a catalyst to break the silence around sexual violence. The women, too, are fearless, as each tells her account of being sexually violated one by one. In a culture where the fear of shame can be overpowering, breaking the silence is a courageous act.

Ankur Vikal darts in and out of every male role, a bystander, an abuser, a father, brother, and even Pandey’s friend, Awindra Pandey.

Farber’s language, interwoven with the real stories, is violent, angry and poetic. “I want to pull my tongue from my mouth like a tree. I want to pull out its roots,” Bose says.

Jyoti herself does not speak but sings eerily throughout the play, a ghost who cannot tell her own story but has it told for her. She is now forever mythologised, a symbol of everything that is wrong in Indian society.

A woman is raped in India every 20 minutes. According to the country’s National Crime Record Bureau, crimes against women have increased by 7.1 percent since 2010. The number of rapes reported has also risen.Nearly a third of rape victims in India are under the age of 18. One in 10 are under 14.

Too often women are told that they should stay at home, where they would be much safer. What was she doing out of the house in the first place, is a question directed at these women. What, then, would they say to Sinha, a Canadian actress of Indian heritage, who was raped in Toronto 20 years ago by a stranger who broke into her apartment? Or to Bose who was raped by several men working in her family home?

Nirbhaya is not an easy watch, and nor should it be. Prepare to be shocked, horrified, and bring plenty of tissues with you. The silence of the audience  was punctuated by sniffs and sobs. One young woman sitting nearby was wiping away tears as she listened to the story of Jawale, a dowry-bride whose family tried to kill her by setting her on fire. Her heavily scarred face streamed with tears as she mourned the loss of a son was snatched away from her by her husband.

While the men who raped and killed Jyoti Pandey were charged and convicted, the men who abused the women in the play have gotten away with their crimes, which emphasises how deep-rooted the problem is.

Nirbhaya ends with each woman standing up, saying her name and slowly raising a fist in the air. They are no longer broken women, ashamed of their bodies or what has happened to them (nor should they be). They are no longer victims, but survivors.

“Bring it the fuck on,” Jagannathan roars. They are fearless. They are Nirbhaya.

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