In Italy, Pakistani women continue to suffer

(By Afnan Khan) Pakistani-Italian women lead miserable lives in Sana Cheema’s hometown, say activists

Local activists of Sana Cheema’s hometown in Italy have revealed disturbing facts about the lives of Pakistani women, many of whom are forced to live in isolation and are married at young age to male cousins they’ve never met in their life just so that the men can migrate to Italy.

Brescia, a town in Lombardy region of Italy, has the highest concentration of Pakistanis anywhere in Italy. Estimates by the community put the number of Pakistanis in the town to around 130,000. Activists say that ignorance, low literacy rate and lack of familiarity with Italian language and culture has prevented the community from integrating into the mainstream society.

The revelation of foulplay in a forensic report about Cheema’s death has reignited the debate in Italy as well as across Europe about honour killings and suppression of women among Pakistani diaspora communities. A few years ago, another local of the town, Hina Saleem, was killed by her father ‘for her Western lifestyle’.

Activist Wajahat Kazmi who started #TruthforSana campaign told Daily Times that the concentration of Pakistanis living in Brescia was so dense that a Pakistani visitor could easily confuse some of the villages and towns in Brescia with villages in northern Punjab cities of Gujrat, Jehlum, Lala Musa and Kharian.

He said that there were more than 37,000 women of Pakistani origin living across Italy, and more than half of them were in Brescia alone, but the fact that there was no individual or group of women condemning the murder spoke volumes about the persecution and the fear they faced.

Kazmi said killers might have trapped Sana in Pakistan, thinking that they could get away with murder over there. “They completely failed to understand that Pakistani legal system has become far more refined now.

“They might have thought they have got their relatives, and may be local policemen, to protect them after the murder. But they failed to grasp the fact that Pakistani society has moved on from the archaic mindset they (killers) are still trapped in,” Kazmi said. “It’s so sad that these violent and ill-mannered individuals suddenly become the face of Pakistan at the global level after committing heinous crimes, whereas the world remains unaware of Pakistanis who are progressive and tolerant to the core,” he lamented.

Kazmi appreciated the Pakistani authorities’ work so far, but insisted that justice was only half done. “I will carry on the #TruthforSana campaign till her killers get due sentence.”

Anna Della Moretta is the Italian journalist who broke the story of Sana’s murder in daily Giornale di Brescia.

Speaking to Daily Times, she and her other colleagues – Andrea Cittadini, Emanuele Galesi and editior-in-chief Nunzia Vallini – said they were surprised by the quick investigation in the case by the Pakistani police and forensic experts. They said that Pakistani media also did a commendable job by extensively reporting on the case.

Regarding the Pakistani diaspora, they said the second generation of Pakistanis was far better integrated into the society than their parents. The source(s) of their story about Sana’s killing also came from this better integrated generation of Italian-Pakistanis.

Emanuele Galesi said it was hard to contact Pakistani women for stories, compared to the men of the community. “There is also this culture of bringing the teenage immigrant girls back to their countries, among which there’s Pakistan, while many of them settle in those countries after marriage and never come back.”

“Sana’s sister was also living a married life in Pakistan and perhaps the deceased might have refused to live like her sister, which might have led to her violent death as the report mentions,” Galesi stated.

The journalist mentioned that although all children were taught about their rights in Italian schools but there was only a little that the government could do when it came to exercise of individual freedoms. “The government’s job was to provide facilities and it was upon the citizens to decide whatever way they wanted to use them.”