'Truth spoken without moderation reverses itself'
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Saturday, July 16, 2016
HAMNA ZUBAIR - Qandeel Baloch is dead because we hate women who don't conform / When it comes to honour killing, India is neck and neck with Pakistan
This is what we
know about Qandeel Baloch:
She liked the water,
she swam. In her videos and photos, she wore the same clothes over and over — a
white bathrobe, a pink polka-dot dress. She had a sense of humour. Her real name was
Fauzia Azeem. She was born into a perfectly ordinary, socially conservative
family. She married young, had a son. She walked away from that marriage when
it didn't work out. She wanted, in
her own words, "to be able to stand on my own two feet, to do
something for myself."
When it comes to honour killing, India is neck and neck with Pakistan, literally.
According to experts, every years at least 1000 women get killed in the name
of honour in India, almost the same as in Pakistan. Every fifth woman killed in the name of honour in the world is Indian. If not for honour, it is
quite likely that Baloch could have been killed before birth just because of
her gender. In western India, states like Haryana (879), Punjab (895),
Rajasthan (928) and Gujarat (919) that lie on the India-Pakistan border, the
sex ratio is a damning condemnation of how girls are considered a perishable
commodity, just as Baloch was. (Pakistan's sex ratio - 1:1.05 - is better than India's.)
Her Facebook persona,
Qandeel Baloch, was followed by practically a million people. She posted pictures
on social media that Pakistan deemed 'bold,' a term in the nation's vernacular
that has come to signify a certain kind of sexual openness. All these facts are
now overwritten by what happened in the last few hours. What we now know about
Qandeel Baloch is that she is dead, according to police, killed at the hands of a
brother who felt he'd been 'dishonoured.'
At this newspaper, we
ran our first
story on Qandeel Baloch in October 2015. When we first saw her on
social media she was pouting and posing, imploring her audience to answer the
question "How I'm looking?" We were amused and intrigued. "Who
is this girl?" we wondered. In the odd way
Pakistani culture has of being both accepting of difference (case in point: Ali
Saleem successfully ran a talk show which he hosted in drag) and fiercely
protective of its imagined purity (case in point: Veena Malik was bashed in
2011 for appearing on the cover of an Indian magazine, sporting little but an
'ISI' tattoo), Qandeel was both coveted and reviled.
She was a young woman
who clearly didn't abide by the unspoken rule that in Pakistan, your private
self and your public self ought to remain distinct from each other. She blurred
that line. Through her photos and videos, she invited us into her bedroom, her
bed. She directly addressed the camera and her audience, asking them what they
wanted next: a selfie? or something more?
From the comments that
appeared under her posts, young men wanted to be with her; they also wanted to
snuff her out. Young women were horrified by her 'immodesty'; they also lauded
her for doing exactly as she pleased. By the end of 2015,
via frequent Facebook and Instagram posts, Qandeel had firmly established her
place in Pakistan's burgeoning celebrity landscape. Of course, she wasn't the
first young woman to be crowned the nation's 'boldest' entertainer. Before her,
we've had Meera, Veena, Mathira and more.
But while they coyly
tiptoe around questions of their sexuality, their motivations and their
attachments — Qandeel set herself apart by being unabashed about her desire to
be a screen siren, somebody who provokes. On a TV show, she proclaimed Sunny
Leone was one of her role models. On Instagram, she had no qualms about saying
she was sexy. Though she wasn't
exactly an open book, she was honest about her ambitions. And as has been proved
today, if you're a woman in Pakistan, ambition can get you killed.
At this newspaper, we
followed Qandeel's short career closely. We reached out to her often. Depending
on her mood, she'd either ignore our calls or initiate long, meandering
As her posts began to
be viewed by more people and as she began to be covered by mainstream
newspapers, I believe she became aware of her power to deliver certain messages
about being female in Pakistan. Around this time, I began to see Qandeel as a
burgeoning advocate for increasing women's visibility in Pakistan.
And so, we ran pieces questioning
why Pakistanis harboured so much hate for Qandeel. And I got a lot of
flak for giving her so much coverage. A few days ago, one commentator asked me
something along the lines of: "You're covering Qandeel so much, what's
next, reporting from a brothel?"
Recently, Qandeel was
beginning to understand the significance and reach her fame afforded her
All of this criticism
made clear what most Pakistanis thought of Qandeel: they'd tolerate her as long
as she was nothing but a sex object, because they were titillated. But as soon
as she started entertaining them in the name of women's rights, she was to be
Earlier this year, it
became clear that what Qandeel may have started as a lark was becoming very
personal to her. We understood that she had an agenda. She was beginning to
understand the significance and reach her fame afforded her, and she seemed to
have adopted a narrative of empowerment that would resonate not only with the
international community, but also with Pakistan's more progressive population.
A few days ago, when
news of her brief marriage broke, we spoke to her for what would be the last
time. She was distraught, but very frank with the writer who called her. "I am a social
media sensation, I am a fashion icon," she said. "I don’t know how
many girls have felt support through my persona. I’m a girl power. So many
girls tell me I’m a girl power, and yes, I am." I think she was girl
power. Yes, she was evasive,
moody, an enigma. But of late, she'd begun to grasp exactly what she stood for.
She had opinions about patriarchy, I believe she was educating herself, and not
just for fame, but because her life had showed her that the world is a difficult
place for women and she wanted to change that.
What we know about
Qandeel Baloch is that she was on her way to becoming a cultural icon.
She was a media-savvy
ouroboros, consuming yesterday's image and the response it garnered to
construct her persona afresh tomorrow. She was both a product
and a reflection of the precarious state of Pakistan today, where neither
liberalism nor conservatism has definitively ousted the other, where women are
increasingly visible in the public eye yet are also still murdered with casual
nonchalance, where fame may buy you social mobility, but only if you play by
the rules of the privileged class.
Some people will
accuse the media of lionising her in her death, of retroactively ascribing
meaning to her persona, her cause. We have to ask ourselves if we did enough. I
want to make clear that this is precisely the tragedy. I don't think Qandeel
herself was clear on who she was, what exactly she wanted to represent. Qandeel
had only just begun. She had a long way to go, and if she hadn't been killed
for honour, I have no doubt that she would've gone very far.
In one of her last
posts, Qandeel said: "As women we must stand up for ourselves. As women we
must stand up for justice. I believe I am a modern day feminist... I am just a
women with free thoughts free mindset and I LOVE THE WAY I AM." Today, I type her name
into a search bar, click through her Facebook posts. Her dark eyes and feline
brows interrogate my motivation. "Did you stand up for me?" they ask.
"Did you do everything you could?" That's the question we have to
live with now.