When it comes to murdered social media celebrity Qandeel Baloch, there is no doubt that she was a polarising figure in Pakistan. Her Internet posts, often considered controversial in an overwhelmingly orthodox society, created quite a storm. But she did not deserve to be murdered for this rebellion or insistence on being true to herself. In a June 14 Facebook post, Baloch spoke about "girlpower" and a month later, on July 15, she was strangled to death by her brother, in what is undoubtedly a case of honour killing.
In Pakistan, hundreds of women become victims of honour killing which is a pervasive part of a culture where family honour is irrevocably tied to the women. Any deviation, however minor, is considered to be damaging. Perpetrators are in most cases family members who are unhappy with the actions of the ‘errant’ woman. Most honour killings occur when the family disagrees to a woman's choice of husband or partner. Sometimes, both the husband and wife are murdered in cold blood. Although many politicians and religious leaders have denounced the practice, a glaring legal loophole has turned honour killing into a righteous concept. When the law says that the accused - often relatives - can go scot-free if the family of the victim pardons the murder, one can hardly expect any justice.
It was in 2013 when Qandeel Baloch’s audition for Pakistan Idol brought her fame and recognition, and she quickly became an Internet sensation.
Baloch was everything a Pakistani woman should not be: sexy, provocative and defiant of social norms. She even had a tattoo on her chest.
In the last several weeks, she was widely talked about in the media for her controversial selfies with cleric Mufti Abdul Qavi. She claimed she had a desire to learn about Islam and wanted to become a better Muslim and sought Mufti Abdul Qavi’s advice. Their meeting however was in a private hotel room during the holy month of Ramzan. Selfies and videos of the pair alone in the hotel room quickly went viral. The pictures (image below) were deemed inappropriate and the Mufti was quickly suspended from his position.
Earlier this year, Qandeel Baloch promised to perform a striptease for the Pakistani cricket team if they won their T20 cricket match against India.
Pakistani men, like in other parts of the subcontinent, have a predominantly conservative mindset, a direct result of feudal patriarchy. As per such standards, Baloch did the exact opposite of how a woman should have acted in public. Her persona was something to be admired, for she was fearless and mostly acted and spoke as she wanted. But it was this free spirit that got her killed in the end.
A part of the Pakistani society condemned the killing and called for her brother to be imprisoned, while the rest believed that Baloch got what she deserved. No woman should feel threatened by her family, especially in her parent’s home. The Anti-Honour Killing Bill was passed earlier this year due to public pressure. The Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy-directed documentary on honour killings, 'A Girl in the River', which won an Oscar, also added to the pressure.
However, perpetrators are hardly ever brought to justice by the law enforcement agencies here and a lot more needs to be done before Pakistani women start feeling safe in their own homes.
Women in Pakistan are scrutinised for everything they do. Their actions, the way they dress, the way they speak, the way they wear their makeup are all judged. In Pakistan, a woman is expected to behave in a certain way and cover up so as to not attract attention. Qandeel Baloch sought everyone’s attention and she always got it. Her brother killed her because he believed her action tainted the family’s name and shamed him in the process.
What he didn’t understand is that Baloch was, in a sense, helping the cause of women’s liberation. She was a feminist. She believed that women had the right and the freedom to live their lives the way they wanted. In that light, Baloch may emerge as a symbol of the movement for gender equality in Pakistan.
However, many young and old are calling this murder “good riddance.” Baloch wasn’t publicly well received by many who believed she was ‘vulgar’ and ‘inappropriate’. This mentality will lead to the killing of more women in the name of honour. Our society is so determined to keep women in line with Islamic beliefs and values, that they will even commit murder and then be able to justify it by bringing in 'honour'. One can only hope that the senseless killing of Qandeel Baloch will open the eyes of Pakistan. Baloch represented more than just dramatics and Internet celebrityhood, she opened the door for women to express themselves. Hopefully, one day, women in Pakistan will be able to express themselves freely without having to lose their lives.