<%-- Page Title--%> Pecreptions <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 153 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

May 7, 2004

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Movies to Stop Acid Violence

Faisal Hossain

A Memo to Aspiring Movie Directors in Bollywood: Please Combat the Acid Throwing Menace in South Asia. The Law is not enough!

Of the many ills that currently plague our society one that is most alien to readers in the West is the Acid Throwing Menace in South Asia. The Acid Survivors Foundation (established in 1998, Bangladesh) reports in this regard,

Throwing of sulfuric acid on the face and body of young females has become an increasingly popular way of expressing anger or frustration by jilted men, some being jilted lovers, ex-husbands, and the like.

So frequently occurring is this menace, that often, this is how a typical news item in Bangladesh can sometimes read,

"In 1998, a man crept into Minara Khatun's bamboo hut in the middle of the night, poured concentrated sulfuric acid on her face and walked away as she woke screaming -- all because she rejected his offer for marriage…"

Or a more statistical report like this one, Dec 7, 2003: Incidents of acid attack are increasing in Khulna region, triggering sheer panic among the peace-loving and law-abiding people of the region. Of the victims, nine are male and 14 female. … [Source: The Daily Independent, Bangladesh]

The situation is no different in other South Asian nations like India and Pakistan. The New York Times (Dec, 26, 2001) reports that kerosene as well as acid has fast become the weapons of choice for attacks on wives in India. Another report (UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, August 7, 2003) states that the Acid Throwing Menace is increasing at the rate of 200% in Southern Punjab, Pakistan. While there was only nine reported cases in 2001, 56 cases were reported in 2002 and, for 2003, by June there have been already 32 cases.

The numbers reported above may appear insignificant in the face of more than a billion people that live in South Asia today. But these numbers are only the tip of the iceberg, considering that most incidents go unreported in rural areas. What makes the case of Acid Throwing more heart-wrenching to those of us, the more privileged ones, are the grotesque pictures of disfigured women who are now struggling to survive in society.

The Legal system has failed miserably to combat this menace, because the South Asian judiciary already has one of the toughest laws in the world in this regard. In the Provincial Assembly of Punjab last year, a resolution declaring acid attacks on women to be equivalent to attempted murder was unanimously approved. In Bangladesh, acid throwing has the maximum punishment of a death penalty. Acid manufacturing industries have to undergo close scrutiny and auditing to make concentrated acids less accessible to the frustrated and misguided. Similar enactments have taken place in both the Central and State ruling assemblies of India as well.

But where the law has failed, the media in South Asia can perhaps be more effective in improving the frustrated mindsets of certain youths. Why? Because, it is my strong belief, that the media (fingers pointing at Mumbai), is partially responsible for the rapid worsening of this menace. The social fabric and the psyche of the less educated masses spanning Karachi to Assam are fed and altered by the overwhelming dominance of Hindi movies made in Bollywood. We are forced to watch fantasy love stories (comprising 80% of Bollywood's annual turn-over) that are cast in a make-believe world that is far-fetched from reality.

A typical story line in Bollywood runs on the "Boy (very poor) meets girl (very rich)" line: Boy falls in love; Boy wants Girl, works hard for it, even at times, risking his life; Boy fights off 40 villains, the corrupt police and social head honchos who are against the union; Boy finally proves that his love is true. These stories have become even more fantastic and it's quite difficult nowadays to identify if the movie ever had a distinct story line or a message in it at all. As Preity Zinta, a top-most Bollywood actress, so correctly puts it in a BBC interview (April 1, 2004), "A conservative society... is leapfrogging from orthodoxy to in-your-face sex on television, films and the internet"

But how often has a Bollywood movie addressed a social ill like Acid Throwing given the fact that its typical amorous script is so well-suited to depict a collage of rejection, dejection, frustration, and happiness that comes with the four-letter word called 'LOVE'? As far as I remember, I don't think there has ever been any scene in a movie that directly addressed this ill (please dare to prove me wrong). Yet, the South Asian movie industry is most suitably poised to implement the potentially most effective remediation strategy for certain segments of South Asian Youth which is to initiate a gradual change of their mindsets. While we all get temporary relief from the everyday economic hardships of life in a 3-hour silver screen showing undulating bellies choreographed with chiseled male bodies, at the end of the day, these movies are perhaps subconsciously raising the (fake) expectations of these frustrated youth.

I therefore want to send out a memo to the Media, particularly to the Movie Industry located near Mumbai (and others such Lollywood and Dollywood) and to aspiring movie directors and producers. Please combat the Acid Throwing Menace through your artwork, generosity and philanthropy. When the toughest laws seem so sterile, let us start a mass campaign to present this menace within the existing commercial framework of love stories. Let us try to understand the causes behind the menace and let us try to show a slice of reality to the viewers to give them a more distilled perspective on life. And perhaps religion can also play a role. I'm sure, Islam, like other religions (such as Hinduism) has perhaps some worthy sayings (or hadiths from our Prophet PBUH) that could be used by the establishment. Of all the khutbahs I've attended, I have not heard one yet by an Imam that directly addressed a social ill such as the Acid Throwing Menace. Why can't we change this situation instead of giving our fiery speeches every week on heaven and hellfire?




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