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The horror, the honour

National Award-winning film Land, Gold, Women, drives home the point that honour killings have little to do with religion and everything to do with an imposed sense of machismo and social violence

In an early scene from Land, Gold, Women, Nazir Ali Khan, the Birmingham-based Muslim father of 17 year-old Saira, asks his daughter to cover her head during a visit by his conservative older brother Riyaaz, even as she shuffles her feet awkwardly.
 

Avantika Hari Agarwal, the director of Land, Gold, Women

Later, Riyaaz, in a poignant scene, holds forth to his bullied-at-school nephew, Asif, on how there is nothing more honourable than 'fighting for' your honour, and the things you must 'protect' to be a real man. Both scenes are cruelly indicative of the way the culture of machismo and honour transcends the boundaries of geography and even religion, a point filmmaker Avantika Hari is at pains to make during our telephone conversation.

"Honour killing is murder and should be treated that way, it has nothing to do with culture or religion. And that's one of the points I'm trying to make in this film," she says, from Dubai, reeling off some facts. "The MET police in London get 17,000 calls in a year from women suffering from honour violence. It's as rampant there as it is in India and even other places like the Middle East and Central Asia."

The 98-minute film, therefore, addresses the issue through Khan's family, as they grapple with increasing pressure to live by the codes they left behind in India, which includes fighting to protect zar, zan and zameen, (Urdu for Gold, Women, and Land) three things that men of 'honour' can kill for.

"It's a film I had to make," Hari says, simply, when I ask her why she settled on such an intense subject for her debut film. That resulted in meetings with 10 and 15 year-olds who had escaped honour killing and were being supported by an NGO. "Here I was, twice the age of little girls who had undergone that kind of violence, and managed to escape it, and I was still struggling to understand how it all worked. It was a compelling subject, and I had to make it," she adds, explaining how during her time at London Film School, she read a number of articles on honour killing, which pushed her to research the subject.

Today, the National Award-winning film has expanded into a movement to end this violence via month-long street plays in various locations in Mumbai, on-ground events with local NGOs like Akshara, and talks and engagement activities with over 10,000 college students. "I want to change lives and that starts by informing people. I want to correct the misconception that honour killing has to do with religion, and that it is condoned by women themselves. It's a social malaise that has, over time, gotten intertwined with a religious outlook," she says.

Next up, the plan is to take the play to New Delhi and also sell it in DVD format, proceeds from which will go to some of the on-ground activities of the movement to end honour violence.

At: 4 pm, Little Theatre, NCPA Nariman Point
Call: 66223737

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