Review: Murdered by my Father (BBC 3)
Warning: this post contains spoilers (although the title gives it away tbh)
The recently aired BBC 3 drama Murdered by my Father is an incredibly powerful depiction of the circumstances in which ‘honour’-based violence takes place. Screenwriter Vinay Patel developed the story following detailed consultation with specialist support charity IKWRO (the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation), among others. We learn that London teenager Salma (Kiran Sonia Sawar) is betrothed from an early age to the son of her father’s business associate Haroon (Salman Akhtar), and despite trying hard to honour her father’s wishes, her love for Imi (Mawaan Rizwan) makes it impossible for her to reconcile the idea of getting married to anyone else. Though she and her widower father Shahzad (played by Adeel Akhtar) share a warm relationship to begin with, his control on Salma’s life tightens considerably as the pressure on him increases to force her into line and ‘protect his reputation’. Haroon points out her Western taste in music, and suggests that she has been ‘looking at boys’. Shahzad himself notices her striking lingerie in the wash basket at home, and the situation takes a turn for the worst when he receives a letter from her school expressing concern at her poor attendance – she had been truanting in order to spend what time she could with Imi. Alerted to her behaviour, he sets a date for the wedding to Haroon, despite his earlier promise to Salma that she would be allowed to finish her studies. We see Salma’s despair as she is torn between her father’s emotional blackmail and the desire to live her own life. After running away to safety, Salma is tricked into coming back to the house, where her father strangles and suffocates her to death.
Patel has done a fantastic job of conveying the social backdrop to this very specific type of violence. We know that Salma previously tried to break up with Imi, but she was unable to resist getting back together with him. When his sister catches him looking at her at a wedding, she warns him to leave her alone, saying, “I’d prefer it if I didn’t have to tell mum why her darling puthar got his head kicked in at a wedding.” She recognises the threat to both of them. In fact Salma’s every movement is policed by everyone from the nosy neighbours to her own little brother, who isn’t even a teenager himself. Whenever she is with Imi, she’s constantly frightened and always aware of who might be watching. Patel captures the horror of a well-meaning outside force putting a victim at grave risk of harm with the letter from the school alerting her father to her absence. Many victims are indeed betrothed to each other from a young age in order to strengthen family ties, which in this instance are broken when Haroon tells Salma’s father that he’d rather keep the business in his own family than associate with someone who has ‘shamed’ them in the way they say he has for failing to make Salma comply. The impact of stigma from the community on ‘honour’ abusers is depicted in a particularly intense manner in the scene where Salma’s father is beaten by Haroon. Although much less dramatic, I too recall in this personal blog post the moment my own father is told he should be ashamed for raising a daughter like me. The dynamic between Salma and her father is also spot on, from the initial pleading and tense compromises to outright threats. Many abusers do indeed imprison their victims to isolate them and prevent them from having any contact with the outside world.
The only sticking point for me was the ending. There is no way that Shahzad would have killed himself after killing his daughter. Men who murder in the name of ‘honour’ are revered and celebrated within the communities from which they spring. Even in jail they are treated like heroes. Deeyah Khan’s Banaz: A Love Story demonstrates how killers will even gloat about what they’ve done as they recall the gory details to an eager audience. Shahzad would have served his time comfortably and re-entered a community that would mostly have welcomed him back with open arms.
But aside from this, I remain struck by the level of detail in this excellent drama, and it is a must-watch especially for those who *still* express incredulity at the possibility that mothers and fathers can manipulate, abuse, beat and even kill their children in this way. You also have to ask yourself how the police would respond to someone like Salma today if she turned up breathless and frantic with fear, telling them that she fears for her life even though her father hasn’t yet laid a finger on her. Would they be in a position to assess the risk competently and support her? A recent report from HMIC is clear that most of them would not.