Speaking out: Marriage rights

By Sharmila Dhal and Zahar Bitar, Staff Reporters for Gulf News

Avantika Hari, left, and Wedad Lootah.

Avantika Hari and Wedad Lootah are two women who use their talents to help people understand social realities. While Avantika finds fame in her work, Wedad copes with infamy.

There’s an uneasy silence as defence lawyers Timothy James and Farah Siddiqui, sitting in a café, talk about the sensitive case before them.

“He doesn’t seem unstable. Hardly seems to have a temper. No matter what I think, all we’ve got is religion and culture,” says James, referring to Nazir Khan, head of a family in Birmingham in the spotlight over the killing of his daughter Saira.

“If we defend him on those grounds, we’re branding the whole community. Leave religion and culture out of it,” urges Siddiqui. “I don’t think I can,” says James to which Siddiqui retorts, “Look, I’m a British Asian Muslim. Nowhere in the Quran does it say you can kill your daughter if she doesn’t listen to you.”

And so the conflict in Land Gold Women begs for resolution. An emphatic statement on the little known but shockingly pervasive practice of honour killing, the unconventional film by Dubai-based filmmaker Avantika Hari explores the rationale behind such incidents and seeks to dispel the misconception that this is a religious issue.

Liberal environment

“Growing up in a liberal environment like Dubai makes one very tolerant and I felt a sense of responsibility to clear the Muslim world’s name where honour killings are concerned,” says 28-year-old Hari, who has written, directed and co-produced the film along with Vivek Agrawal from India.

The film, which premiered at Birmingham and had a special screening at the House of Commons in the UK last month – has already set viewers thinking. “There was shock and disbelief and the Muslims who watched it were thankful,” claims Hari, looking forward to the March 25 Dubai premiere of the film at The Scene Club launched last November by Emirati filmmaker Nayla Al Khaja. At first, Hari too couldn’t fathom how honour killings could still be perpetrated. She recalls how she chanced upon a newspaper article on one such incident when she was a student at the London Film School in 2004. But as she researched the subject, a whole new perspective emerged.

Tribal Honour

“Honour crimes – murders committed to protect the image of the family – affect women all over the world, irrespective of their religious, social and economic backgrounds,” says Hari, adding that thousands of women across cultures are victimised in the UK alone each year.

Determined to do something about it, she thought of making a film where she could dwell on one of the three elements of land, gold and women used generally to preserve tribal honour.

It took her four years to complete the project. While friends from television, films and theatre comprised the cast, the funding, all of $1.1 million (Dh4 million), came from her family.

“Avantika has always had a strong sense of right and wrong,” says her father Hari Padmanabhan, Strategic Adviser at 3i Infotech, Dubai. Even at school – she is an alumna of Dubai Modern High School and Emirates International School – she took part in service-oriented activities. Going beyond the self, she learnt early on, was essential for one’s development.

Three years ago, her first film Hat Day focused on a London preschool where each child was assigned a Commonwealth nation hat. It topped the Commonwealth Vision Awards because of its powerful message: identity mattered little for toddlers. In Land Gold Women too, it’s a question of image at the fore – potent but far more complex.


Born in India, brought up in the Middle East and educated in the West, Avantika Hari wrote the story of Land Gold Women while doing her MA in Filmmaking at the London Film School in 2004.

Hari graduated with a double major in Visual Arts and Economics from Stetson University, Florida, USA in 2002. She also authored a paper that involved using interactive education as a means to alleviate poverty in India.


A family counsellor at Dubai Courts, who is facing death threats for writing a book in Arabic on sex within marriage, has lashed out at her detractors in an interview with XPRESS – her first to an English-language publication.

“These people have no idea about the reality of our society,” said Wedad Lootah, whose book Serri Lel Ghayah (Top Secret) has caused an uproar in the Arab world because of its explosive content. The 221-page book gives an explicit insight into issues related to sex and married life – subjects hitherto considered taboo in the region.

Wedad has been accused of being an Israeli agent and is routinely subjected to threats – the most recent of which was by a caller who wanted to kill her.

But the 45-year-old woman, who wears a niqab (face cover) to her workplace, remains unfazed and stands by her book.
Bedroom lapses

“It should be read by every man and woman planning to get married as sex is the pillar of a stable and healthy family. Lapses in bedroom relations lead to marital strife,” said Wedad, backing her claim with statistics dug out from Dubai Courts. “Out of the 2,401 cases of family disputes we dealt with last year, 1,305 were a result of lack of sexual harmony.

“A husband and wife cannot be sexually satisfied unless they both enjoy it,” she said, adding that she was sure a man wouldn’t commit adultery if he was sexually fulfilled by his wife and vice versa.

Sensuality and communication between the husband and wife are key essentials to a happy married life as they heighten the pleasure of the act, said Wedad, who recommends that every man and woman should enjoy sex to the fullest “by being participatory, not anticipatory”.

Wedad said she has used Quran and Sunnah referrals in her book to prove that oral sex, which many think is forbidden, is actually allowed in Islam.

“What is haram [forbidden] is anal sex,” she added.

Sex education

“Lack of sex education is the main reason behind marital break-ups among Emiratis,” she said. Wedad reckons starting sex education in schools would create awareness, break taboos and dispel certain myths associated with the subject.

“Young people are often exposed to a wide range of notions about sex. A good sex education programme could lower the risks of negative outcomes from sexual behaviour and develop their ability to make decisions when they are adults,” she said.

Death threats

Wedad said she had been getting death threats even before the book was published. “In fact I was threatened in 2006 when the book was just a study. What infuriated my detractors more than anything else was the fact that the cause of sex education was being championed by a woman who wore a niqab.

“They said I was an Israeli agent who wanted to corrupt Arab youth by making them sex-oriented. I have received threats from GCC and Arab countries…, but I am not afraid.”

Wedad said she found great support from her family, especially her broad-minded husband and her 20-year-old daughter, who designed the book’s cover.

“My sons have read the book and are also very proud of me.”
When the Ministry of Justice refused to publish her book, Wedad got it published on her own.

The 221-page book is in Arabic and is priced at Dh34.


Wedad Lootah did her Bachelors in Islamic Studies from the Islamic College in UAE University in 1986. In 1996, she joined the Department of Islamic Affairs and Charitable Works as head of Dawat (call for Islam) for women. She joined Dubai Courts in 2001 and has since been working there as a family counsellor. Serri Lel Ghayah, which loosely translates into Top Secret in English is her first book. Published in November last year, it uses three case studies to illustrate how lack of sexual harmony could lead to marital discord.
Read More

Comments are closed.