Today I went with my students to the US Consulate General Karachi for being part of a “panel discussion shown live via video conferencing” experience arranged by US Embassy in collaboration with Higher Education Commission (HEC). The topic under discussion was “Acid attacks and Their Effect on the Society” which actually seems to be the hottest topic since Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy won an Oscar on her documentary “Saving Faces” dealing with the same topic.
The panel had , most obviously, Sharmeen Obaid, Prof. Hamid Hassan (Head of Burns unit at Benazir Bhutto International Hospital, Rawalpindi), Barrister Naveed Muzaffar Khan (defends victims of acid attacks) Valerie Khan (a representative of Acid Survivors Foundation) and Samina Naz (representative of Aurat Foundation). There also was a psychiatrist kind of a lady who treats psychological impacts on acid victims.
When we received the invitation, it actually implied that maybe Sharmeen Obaid would actually be present at the Consulate, so it was a blow to learn that the event is actually going on in Islamabad.
Anyways, we reached the consulate half an hour before the start of the event, only to be told that we might not be allowed access before time. Thankfully, they saw sense and started allowing us inside, because going through all the security process for all the 15 people took some 20 minutes. (Those who know me would understand when I say that I was absolutely sure they would turn me away, calling me a security risk.) By the start time, we were all inside, seated and talking. The actual program started around 15 minutes late.
The program was as expected, all the panelists discussed acid attacks and what is being done for the victims. The barrister discussed a proposed bill that would give a strict punishment to the perpetrator. Everyone felt the need to promote education to reduce crime rate.
What wasn’t discussed were the reasons that led to acid attacks. The frustrations, the aggressions of the men that are let out on the weaker person i.e. the woman who is not necessarily the cause of the frustration, merely an easy target.
Audience in the Islamabad auditorium posed their questions. I felt Sharmeen Obaid to be on the defensive and with a hostile body language, specially when a student asked that with all the negative image of Pakistan in the world, hasn’t “Saving Faces” added more to the negativity associated with Pakistan. But then it might be her natural style.
At the end of the session, the PR staff of the Consulate held a question and answer session with the students, guiding them towards their various offices for educational purposes, satisfying queries about Pak US diplomatic relations and projects that are funded by US. It was “good USA” advertising campaign, but then we were sitting in their territory, so makes sense.
After the event, we were escorted to the gates, received our belongings from the security deposit, and were kind of kicked out of the Consulate. Those people are way too security conscious. All in all the trip itself was fun, making small talk with students all the way long, and then lunch at Dolmen Mall. Actually that…was the best part.