“At first I was angry with the whole world, with life itself. I thought: why is this happening? Why to me and my family? Then I realised. It was all written, fate had already decided for Hina, my husband, and me. And then I found the peace I was looking for. Living without Hina will always be a source of great pain, but Mohammed was and remains the man of my life. It is only right that he pays for what he did, but I have forgiven him and will never forsake him.”
Bushra smiles and puts away the photo album: “Enough reminiscing for today.” Enough of Hina’s serious face as a girl, wearing traditional Pakistani dress. Enough of those pictures capturing happy moments at a birthday party, of snapshots from a distant past, before the day everything changed.
It was ten years ago, on 11 August 2006, a hot day like so many others in the quiet town of Sarezzo near Brescia. But it was to be the last for Hina Saleem, 20, whose lifestyle was so far removed from that of most girls her age in her home country, Pakistan. Her father Mohammed stabbed her to death and buried her in the garden with the help of two relatives. “Because she wanted to live and dress like a Westerner,” it was said, “for religious reasons,” or “because she refused to go to Pakistan to marry a stranger”.
News reports at the time said that after she was killed she was buried with her head turned towards Mecca. This young woman, who no longer lived with her family, who always went around in jeans with her midriff bare, who was not religious, became a symbol, an emblem of women’s liberation from the straightjacket of Islamic precepts.
Her mother Bushra sees things differently.
She asks her children for help in translating correctly what she wants to say: “Believe me, my daughter has become the symbol of a story of fundamentalism that never existed. My husband has always been a good man and a model father, who has never once forced us to do anything. That day he lost his head in a fit of rage. Hina was a very good girl but had ended up in bad company, as we had tried to explain to her so many times. She kept asking us for money, and we helped her out as long as we could. But what happened that day was all down to a fit of rage …”
What about the body facing Mecca, buried in the garden? “It had nothing to do with religion,” she says, as she shakes her head. “It was sheer panic. We were all in Pakistan, and Mohammed just wanted to play for time until we got back, then tell us everything and turn himself in, which is in fact what happened”.
The judges of the Supreme Court passed sentence in 2010: 30 years for Mohammed, a father who had acted “not for religious or cultural customs or reasons, but out of anger for the girl’s repeated refusal to do what her father told her”. Basically, the crime was the result of “a distorted and pathologically possessive parental relationship”.
Religion was not the reason, according to the Court. “Not that this makes what happened any the less serious,” comments Nayab, one of Hina’s sisters. “But acknowledging the fact means setting the record straight after so much rubbish has been said about our family. Look at me,” she says, as she points to her tiny miniskirt, black stockings, and figure-hugging T-shirt with dark lace sleeves. “We didn’t know you were coming; we’ve just got back from the prison where we all went together to visit dad. Would I go dressed like this if he were really a fundamentalist fanatic?”.
Among the “evidence” that there is no bigotry here, I am shown photographs of Bushra, newly married, wearing jeans. “Of course, we know the Koran and when we can, we pray, just like Catholics. What’s wrong with that? The truth is that I was the one who bought Hina’s famous western clothes…”
In their house in Lumezzane (near Sarezzo), Bushra lives with her children and grandchildren. The walls are bare, and only one room contains photographs of Hina. Khzina, the youngest of her daughters, is 12, and is identical to Hina when she was little. “Some mornings, when I go to wake her up, I have the impression that it’s Hina under the covers, sleeping the way she used to, smiling the way she did … Khzina has her eyebrows … I often stop and stare at her, and think back to when Hina was her age, what she used to do, how full of life she was, how she hugged me. Mohammed did something terrible, but he’s paying the price. And we are here, waiting for him. Isn’t that right, sweetie?” she asks her granddaughter, who has been following every word. “What’s grandfather like?”. “Really really nice”.
Source: corriere delle sera