In a much-anticipated event, filmmaker and lawyer Aisha Ghazi premiered her recent documentary, Chained in the Web, in Karachi on January 26. Held at the city’s Arts Council of Pakistan, the inaugural event included the screening followed by a brief Q/A session. Gracing the occasion, Ghazi was the guest of honour for the day.
The opening ceremony kicked off with Quranic recitation before everyone stood up in respect of the national anthem. Instead of a ribbon-cutting ceremony, Ghazi appeared on stage to press the play button for the documentary film amid applause from attendees.
Per the film’s promotional material, Chained in the Web is based on Ghazi’s research on the “politics surrounding ‘Untouchables in Hinduism’ with its lingering effect in Pakistan.” The film’s name comes from her efforts to uncover “the political web from the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992 in India to forced conversions in Pakistan.”
Notably, the film’s premiere coincides with the recent consecration ceremony led by Indian Prime Minister Modi at the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya on January 22, formerly the site of the Babri Masjid.
The documentary takes viewers on a journey through towns and villages in Sindh, featuring interviews with representatives from Hindu rights-based organizations such as Pakistan Derawar Ittehad and Dalit Sujag Tehreek. These interviews present arguments against the idea of forced conversions, with some suggesting that conversions are voluntary and follow the tradition of Indian Dalit social reformer Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar.
Ample time is given also to Muslim clerics notorious for allegedly leading forced conversions including Abdul Haq, commonly called Mian Mithu, and Mohammed Ayub Jan Sarhandi who insist that contrary to claims, not a single girl has been forcibly converted to Islam by them.
Testimonies from formerly Hindu women who converted to Islam and married Muslim men are relayed. According to Ghazi, these interviewees are further proof that such decisions are motivated by personal will. The filmmaker’s narration further contends that child marriage practices in Pakistan remain unaffected by religious identity.
Ghazi criticises the foreign-funded NGOs run by Muslims and high-caste Hindus who rally against alleged forced conversions. She points out how such concern is not shown for Hindu boys who convert to Islam. In conversation with clerics, she argues how very often families convert to Islam together with their minors but only Hindu girls make headlines.
The audience at the screening consisted primarily of the press and young researchers. The documentary received attention for its almost two-hour runtime. Set for screening in Islamabad next, Ghazi announced a more refined final cut and plans to produce Sindhi and Urdu translations for a wider audience.
Towards the event’s conclusion, she reiterated her film’s appeal to relevant institutional bodies to protect one of “the most oppressed women of Pakistan” – Dalit girls who convert to Islam. Referring to testimonies from women who say they were forcibly converted, Ghazi maintained that these cases are seen in marriages that fell apart where vulnerable women had to revert to Hinduism and claim their conversion was forced to live with their families again.
Disclosing her reasons for picking the subject matter, Ghazi explained her frequent travels around the world and commitment to documenting the plight of the oppressed. In closing remarks, she echoed the conclusion of her film: “Pakistan is hope for all oppressed people who strive for dignity.”
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