Murder most foul?

Updated April 26, 2018


Given the horrific circumstances, it is a relief that Pakistan’s laggard justice system has been stirred into action, even if prompted by external quarters.

On the orders of a magistrate, the body of Sana Cheema, a young Italian woman of Pakistani origin, was exhumed on Wednesday in Gujrat district for investigation into the cause of her death. The 26-year-old died last week and was buried without an autopsy since the family said her death was from natural causes.

However, the Gujrat police took notice of reports appearing in the Italian media, and a social media campaign by her friends, which held that she had been murdered for ‘honour’ — allegations with enough strength to draw the Pakistani community out for a demonstration in her neighbourhood in Italy.

Police in Pakistan collected information that also cast suspicions over the account presented by the young woman’s family. A murder case was then lodged against her father, brother and uncle.

It is now for the police and the courts to determine the suspects’ culpability, or lack thereof. However, there is a larger lesson to be learned from the tragedy.

There are many young people in the West who, like Sana Cheema, are second-, third- or even fourth-generation immigrants of Pakistani descent. Even if the older generations have found integration difficult in their homes in the West, it is unjust and illogical of them to expect their descendants — particularly women — to follow the patriarchal mores of their country of origin.

In Pakistan, such killings are a gruesome reminder of how, for long, the law was lax when it came to punishing those who committed this horrendous crime — indeed, instead of being looked upon as murder, the practice is still seen by many as an exercise in protecting family ‘honour’.

Investigations have yet to confirm the cause of Sana Cheema’s death. If it is proved that she was a victim of ‘honour’ killing, she will join the unfortunate ranks of the thousands of women in this country to have met this fate.

Published in Dawn, April 26th, 2018