Horror in the name of Honour

On the night of 12th April 2018 Sana Cheema a twenty six year old Italian national girl was brought to hospital in Gujrat. She was feeling acute weakness, low blood pressure and nausea. She told the doctor on duty that she has not eaten well for several days and the food did not agree with her. She said that she really wanted to go back to Italy. She already had a flight booked for flying back to Italy in the early hours of morning on the 19th of April. As it happened, Sana Cheema never made it to her flight. Tragically, she died all of a sudden on the evening of 18th April. The next day, she was buried hurriedly in the local graveyard in Mangowal, District Gujrat.

As news of her death spread to Italy and suspicions were raised in the Italian newspapers, the District Police Officer, Gujrat, ordered to trace her family and make investigation as to the alleged murder. After the initial investigation it became evident that she was in fact murdered and strangulated by her own father Ghulam Mustafa and her brother Adnan Cheema in the name of ‘honour’. A case was registered on the charges of first degree murder. Both the father and brother were arrested and they confessed to the murder in police custody. On 25th April, Sana’s body was exhumed on the orders of the District and Sessions Magistrate and the autopsy was done and the samples of her body sent to the Punjab Forensic Science Agency in Lahore. The report revealed that Sana Cheema died of a broken neck as a result of strangulation by a scarf. Her brother held her arms while her father strangulated her.

This barbaric and heinous act of violence towards an innocent twenty six years old young and beautiful girl has shaken the media in Pakistan and Italy. It is beyond belief in this modern day and age that someone other than a complete psychopath can kill his daughter but the fact is that the killer is not an insane person, he was not even alone in the crime but aided and abetted by other members of his family and apparently they all colluded to hide the murder by hurriedly burying the slain girl.

This heinous murder has left a deep sense of loss, a highly disturbing feeling of insecurity regarding blood relations, and a total disgust about how ignorance and lack of any enlightenment can turn men into monsters. Sana’s murder is not an isolated incident but it is in fact evidence of what is a deep lying issue, festering in the backward areas of Punjab from where a large number of diaspora has migrated to Europe.

Sana’s murder is not unique and similar cases of murder of European nationality holder women have been reported before from the same districts in central Punjab called the Golden crescent.

What was the reason of Sana’s murder is no mystery. She was young, emancipated and had her own business in Brescia, Italy, which she ran successfully. She lived independently, had friends and enjoyed the life she had made for herself. Her crime was not allowing her family the right to manage her life, her career or force her into marriage in Pakistan or in Italy. She wanted to lead her life as she wanted. She was only a small child when her father brought her to Italy where he resided since the mid nineties. Sana was a product of the culture and society she grew up in and she had been successful at a young age.

Then why did her family feel threatened by her independence and why did they want to force her into a life and marriage of their choice in Pakistan?

The answer to this needs an understanding of the society that exists in the backward rural areas of Punjab. The communities although have been traditionally going to Europe for economic reasons and other pull factors but unfortunately they have never been able to integrate to the least with the society and culture in Italy, France or the rest of Europe. The older generation of diaspora especially the women who had migrated and managed to get nationalities continued to be aliens in the European societies. They have rudimentary or no language skills and do not socialise. They live on the fringes of society, manage grocery shopping or housekeeping and have little or no interest in learning anything new. They even show disdain and contempt for European way of life and stick to their own methods. They don’t mingle at all, especially the women. They only meet the Pakistani community and that too rarely.

This not only creates a total disconnect between them and the European society but it invariably also creates a chasm between them and their own children who were born or raised in Europe and went to schools or colleges in Europe. The parents feel alienated as they don’t know how to deal with this realisation that they cannot dictate or drive their children. This alienation can turn into resentment especially for the girls and sometimes even confrontation, which in Sana’s case resulted in her barbaric cold blooded murder.

There is a glaring difference between the principals adopted by Italy, France or most of the European nations regarding society, citizens and their relationship with state in modern times. They believe in freedom and fundamental rights of all citizens and they celebrate the individual. There is no concept of forcing anyone to marry or and the whole concept would be ludicrous there. They accept the right of an individual to choose and make decisions for him or herself. They have been successful in creating an environment which generates creativity and appreciates talent.

The commodification of women is still very much the norm and it is still very much kosher to force girls into marriages. Ghulam Mustafa belonging to a village in Gujrat, although lived in Italy for twenty seven years, quintessentially remained a product of this ignorance and abominable thinking. Being in Italy and observing that society even at the periphery was not enough to bring any positive change in his thinking or make it progressive.

This honour killing case seems to be open and shut apparently but in Pakistan, unfortunately, the laws have glaring gaps through which such murders can slip. The courts must not leave any space for the murderers to wiggle out and the society as a whole must condemn this heinous crime as barbaric and inhuman. The murders must be given exemplary punishment and maximum penalty.

The Italian government also must keep better vigilance on the Pakistani diaspora, from backward areas in rural Punjab concentrated in certain cities and raise awareness in young women regarding forced marriages or domestic violence which should be reported without delay to the authorities so as to prevent any such incident from happening in the future.


The writer is a freelance journalist based in Lahore. She has extensive experience in writing on development economics and disaster management.

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