Home/ Opinion / Long live Qandeel Baloch

Qandeel Baloch is dead. Strangled to death by her younger brother. Few murders have repulsed me as much as Baloch’s. Maybe because she was a woman and one who had committed no crime. Maybe because it was at the hands of her own brother. Maybe it was because her only “crime" was to not fit into the role society had determined for her—a role in which she was supposed to protect the family’s honour.

Or maybe her death reminded me that come what may, whatever century we may enter, women will always be viewed as dispensable and secondary in the subcontinent.

The 25-year-old Baloch was a model in Pakistan and was known for risqué facebook posts and offers to strip for the Pakistan cricket team if they won a match against India, but most famously and recently for posting selfies of herself with Mufti Abdul Qavi. Qavi was part of the Ruet-e-Hilal (moon sighting committee) and also a member of the religious wing of Imran Khan’s political party, Tehreek-e-Insaaf. The selfies, which led to Qavi being made to resign, showed her with a smiling Qavi, wearing his topi.

Baloch had recently asked for police protection because she had received death threats. This request was ignored. Given the fact that her own brother murdered her in their parents’ home after drugging her, police protection would not have helped. Yet, that the state refused to take her request seriously speaks clearly of the importance—or lack of it—that threats to women are given.

Let’s get some facts in place first. Baloch was not from an educated family and was married off against her will at the age of 17 to an older, uneducated man. She had gone on record recently stating that she wanted to leave her marriage but her parents did not support her. She got pregnant and stayed on in the marriage till she was 19. She then left with her 1-year-old son and took refuge in a women’s shelter called Darul Alam. On the advice of the shelter, she allowed her husband to take custody of her son. She then left the shelter and got herself a job while completing her school and going on to get a Bachelor’s degree. She did a host of jobs ranging from marketing to working as a bus hostess’ she worked at Daewoo and at Lever Brothers. She then took part in Pakistan Idol, following which she became a model.

Baloch didn’t use her own name, Fauzia Aseem, because she wanted to protect her parents and didn’t want to reveal where she or they lived. She earned enough money to not only rent a house for herself, but also supported her parents by paying their rent and medical expenses in Multan—where her father was being treated for a broken leg. When her brother Waseem drugged and murdered her, she was visiting her parents in the family home in Multan to celebrate Eid.

According to Waseem’s statement in a press conference after his arrest, “she brought dishonour to the Baloch name…There are other issues as well... Like the maulvi issue". And that, “She wasn’t aware I was killing her. I gave her a tablet and then strangled her". How considerate of him. According to the First Information Report (FIR) filed by her father Mohammad Azeem, Waseem had killed her after being told to do so by her older brother, Mohammad Aslam Shaheen.

Obviously the two brothers didn’t think of honour when agreeing to their sister footing their parents’ expenses and living costs. Because taking money from her dishonourable work was fine.

That killings in the name of honour are taking place in Pakistan—and even in India—is not new. And they are only on the rise. According to the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, last year, 1,096 women and 88 men were killed in what are called ‘honour’ crimes in Pakistan. In 2014, 1,005 women including 82 children were killed. An increase from 869 women in 2013. ‘Honour’ killings are almost never punished in Pakistan because Islamic Shariah law allows a killer to be forgiven by the victim’s family. Since most of these murders are committed by family members themselves, other relatives forgive them.

Before we look down at Pakistan, let’s not forget that this side of the border we get killed for marrying or loving men our families or panchayats may not approve of. So let’s not think we are more evolved or superior.

The point is that there is a basic acceptance that the honour of the family (especially of the men in the family) resides in the women of the family. And that the women of the family are like the family chattel. So if the family decides that the chattel is seen as stepping out of line, then they are terminated. It’s objectification in another sense because a woman’s value in her family is exactly that of an object.

Also, before raising your eyebrows at how Baloch/Azeem’s brothers viewed her as dishonourable or someone to be frowned upon, you simply need to realize that this moral judgment is shared by men and women alike.

Senator Sherry Rehman, former Pakistan Ambassador to the US, tweeted without irony—“None at all! #QandeelBaloch was no role model but she deserved a better, life and death. Strongly condemn!" And this is just one of the tweets passing moral judgment while also saying, “but she shouldn’t have been killed". Rehman, a seemingly educated Pakistani woman, doesn’t seem to realize that whether or not Baloch was a role model is of no relevance to the fact that she was murdered for no reason. Other than because she didn’t fit into the ambit of being a good Muslim woman.

Javeria Ali, who has since deleted her tweet, wrote:

And therein lies the problem, the character assassination that “she wasn’t a good woman". By that logic, Rehman, Ali or any other Muslim woman who mixes with foreign men or men who aren’t related to them and walks around without a hijab, is a bad Muslim and not a role-model. And Rehman’s and Ali’s aren’t the only tweets in this vein.

There are multiple tweets by many women, claiming that Baloch had brought disrepute to her family. And ergo, must be killed. That women buy into the same patriarchal and moralistic pitfalls as men is why women carry on being treated as goods this side and across the border.

That here was a woman who did not ride on the coat-tails of her husband or father, was born in a financially backward family, wasn’t allowed to complete her education, married off against her wishes, then left that marriage with her child in tow in a country like Pakistan which has little place for independent women, got herself a job and completed her education, financially supported her parents who had not supported her, and then decided to repeatedly cock a snook at the establishment—especially patriarchy—should be lauded. Rehman may not want to be Qandeel Baloch, but if most women had half the spine that Baloch showed in asserting her independence, the world would be a more equal place for genders.

It’s sad that so much discourse around Baloch’s death revolves around how crude or vulgar she was perceived to be. And so little about how an ordinary Pakistani woman stood on her own feet, breaking the shackles that her own family and society had placed around her. It’s time that Baloch is appreciated for standing up for the freedom and independence of women. Instead of being condemned for how she did so.

Yes, Qandeel Baloch is dead. But, for the sake of us women, long live Qandeel Baloch.

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Updated: 18 Jul 2016, 04:12 PM IST
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