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SILENT WATERS aka KHAMOSH PANI
USA: First Run Features
Cast: Kirron Kher, Aamir Malik, Arshad Mahmud, Salman Shahid, Shilpa Shukla, Sarfaraz Ansari, Shazim Ashraf, Navtej Johar, Fariha Jabeen, Adnan Shah, Rehan Sheikh
Director: Sabiha Sumar
Countries: Pakistan / Germany / France
Language: Punjabi (English subtitles)
USA: 95 mins
USA Release Date: 8 October 2004 (Limited Release - New York)
SILENT WATERS is set in 1979 in Pakistan, when General Zia-ul-Haq took control of the country and stoked the fires of Islamic nationalism. Ayesha, a Muslim woman who gets by on her late husband's pension and by teaching young girls the Koran, invests her hopes in her beloved son Saleem. But when Saleem takes up with a group of Islamic fundamentalists just as a group of Sikh pilgrims come to town, Ayesha's haunted past turns her present life upside down.
The film is based on actual events that took place when the Indian sub-continent was partitioned in 1947 into two new states - India and Pakistan. In per-Partition Punjab, Muslims and Sikhs had lived side-by-side, but during the Partition men from both sides of the religious divide slaughtered each other. Each looted the other's property, which included their respective women: little distinction was made between robbing cattle and abducting women. Muslim men abducted Sikh women while Sikh men abducted Muslim women. The women were raped, bought, sold and, sometimes, murdered; some ended up marrying their abductors.
From the women's point of view, they faced danger from two sides. The immediate threat came from males within their families. Their fathers, brothers or husbands forced them to commit suicide to preserve chastity and protect family and community honor. If they escaped death at the hands of the family patriarchs, they were targeted by men from across the religious divide as 'nothing dishonors the enemy more than dishonoring the womenfolk'. Ironically, though, the women stood a better chance of survival against strangers who were less interested to kill them and more keen to dishonor the "enemy" community.
The official estimate of the number of abducted women was placed at 50,000 Muslims in India and 33,000 Hindus and Sikhs in Pakistan. But it is feared that the actual number was much higher.