Murdered by her father for becoming a Western woman

By Duncan Kennedy
BBC News, Rome

Hina Saleem
Image caption,
Hina's family helped her father bury her in his back garden

Hina Saleem paid the ultimate price.

A 20-year old Pakistani woman who lived in northern Italy, she was murdered by her father who claimed he was "saving the family's honour".

Mohammed Saleem said he didn't like the way Hina was living her life and told the authorities she brought shame on his family.

So he slit her throat. Twenty-eight times.

"I didn't want to kill her," he pleads, "I wanted her to come back home".

Mohammed Saleem has spoken from his prison cell, where he's serving 30 years for the murder.

The BBC has been given access to that interview which gives a rare insight into the mind of a perpetrator of "honour killing".


"I'm a good father," insists Saleem. "My daughter was good before. She was very, very good. Then, all of a sudden, she changed."

For Mohammed Saleem, the thing that changed, "all of a sudden", was Hina's lifestyle. She had come to Italy as an Asian girl, but had grown into a Western woman.

She refused an arranged marriage, she smoked and she lived with an Italian boyfriend. For Hina, this was normal. For her father, this was treason.

To him, she represented a threat to his pride, dignity and standing in the Pakistani community.

To have a "wayward" daughter like Hina was, in his view of the world, an unacceptable challenge to his position.

For "wayward", read Western. Hina, he was saying, was effectively betraying her roots, traditions, culture and religion by embracing the more liberal life of a European teenager.

"I didn't want my daughter to be too free," Saleem says from prison.

This was murder, but it was a calculated, slow-burn murder.

'Double conflict'

Image caption,
Saleem said he did not want his daughter to be free

Hina's transition from the apple of her father's eye, to the victim of his murderous rage, is now the subject of a new book called Hina: This is my life.

One of the authors, Marco Ventura, says father and daughter were on a complicated collision course from the moment they arrived in Italy.

"In this story there is a double conflict," says Marco. "There is a conflict between cultures and a conflict between generations, between father and daughter."

Although the murder itself was Saleem's sole enterprise, the project was not. He garnered support from other members of the extended family to bury her in his own back garden.

He rationalises the act of burial like this: "When she died, the only thing I wanted, was to bring her back home."

The co-author of the new book, Giommaria Monti, has given this much thought.

"The parents no longer spoke the same language as their daughter," he says. "Burying her in the garden of the family home brought her back to where she belonged. Hina was their possession."

Global problem

Hina Saleem's murder, of course, is not unique.

The United Nations Population Fund believes that, globally, as many as 5,000 women and girls are killed each year by members of their own family in the name of "honour".

Image caption,
Hina's father felt his daughter's lifestyle had changed "all of a sudden"

Men, too, are targeted if, for example, they marry outside their caste or religion. But these cases are much rarer than those involving women.

The physical task of "restoring honour", of exacting a price, mostly falls to men.

The legal task of bringing the killers to justice falls to the authorities, but many countries have, what might be called, an accommodating attitude toward such honour-motivated killings.

In the penal codes of countries like Argentina, Ecuador and Syria, there is even a partial, or complete defence, for such killings.

In other words, some societies take an almost tolerant view towards "honour killings", regarding them as a kind of sub-species on the murder spectrum, especially if their purpose is to uphold widely supported virtues and standards.

In Italy itself, there was a legal defence to this form of murder until 1981. That has now been repealed.

Activists working to draw attention to the problem say Western societies must share the blame for their collective inaction.

Souad Sbai, an Italian member of Parliament, founded the Association of Moroccan Women in Italy, a group that speaks out about such cases.

"Cases of 'honour killings' represent a failure of the system of multiculturalism," she says. "We continue to underestimate the problem, because these ethnic groups live their own lives with little integration, especially for women."

"They have very little control in communities where men try to perpetuate the lives and customs they lived in their home country," says Souad.

Mohammed Saleem still feels Hina shamed him, but he now claims he regrets killing her. Not because he lost his daughter, but because of the effect of his murder on the rest of his family.

"It's not only Hina who died," he says "My whole family died. Without my son, without my wife, this is not a life," he says, with a hefty measure of self-pity.

The purpose of talking to a convicted murderer was not to evoke sympathy, but to try to understand.

Did her violent death restore his family's "honour"?

Well, as the family has now been split apart, it's a tainted, diluted kind of restoration, if it did.

Hina's appalling, avoidable, fate shows a very expensive price has been paid.

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