INTERVIEW-Gunslinging Pakistani girls in lawless land shoot for Academy Award

by Rina Chandran | @rinachandran | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 26 September 2017 14:10 GMT

A still from the film 'My Pure Land', based on a real-life incident of women guarding their property from armed bandits in Sindh, Pakistan. Courtesy Bill Kenwright Films

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"Pakistan gets a bad rap when it comes to feminism - but we've had some incredibly strong women from there, including Benazir Bhutto, Malala and this young woman"

By Rina Chandran

MUMBAI, Sept 26 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - British-born filmmaker Sarmad Masud was inspired to make a feminist Western in Pakistan when he heard how two gun-toting teenage girls fought off 200 men trying to take their home.

"My Pure Land", which is Britain's foreign language entry for the Academy Awards, highlights how patriarchy and corruption make it hard for women in Pakistan to claim land.

"What appealed to me was the courage of this young girl who stood up to 200 armed men for her home and the family's honour," Masud told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, referring to the chief protagonist, Nazo Dharejo.

"Land disputes are not as glamorous as other themes, but this was an important story that needed telling."

The low-budget Urdu-language film tells the story of two sisters and their mother who defend their home from their uncle and his hired goons after the death of their father and brother.

Land ownership defines social status and political power in Pakistan, and disputes often target single women who have inherited property.

The girls are taught to shoot at a young age by their father, who tells them their land is their honour and must be protected, and gives them boys' names to empower them.

"Pakistan gets a bad rap when it comes to feminism - but we've had some incredibly strong women from there, including Benazir Bhutto, Malala and this young woman," Masud said, adding that Dharejo has joined a political party to tackle corruption.

More than a million property disputes are pending in Pakistani courts, Masud's research showed.

Disagreements are often settled by force, and village elders and the police are complicit in a corrupt system that does not always respect legal claims, least of all by women.

While women do have inheritance rights, men generally control ownership, passing land from father to son.

"It is a classic good versus evil battle in a lawless land where everything goes," Masud said.

"It is also very specific to Pakistan, where land disputes are so prevalent because honour is everything, and it is closely tied to land, with which people have an almost spiritual bond." (Reporting by Rina Chandran @rinachandran, Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.)

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