Summary: Pakistani model’s honor killing mobilized feminist groups to speak against the horrendous tradition, but never could help to solve the problem Pakistan deals for decades
Qandeel Baloch quickly became the first ever social media star of Pakistan. She rose to fame in 2015 after sharing her famous pouting video asking her viewers: ‘How am I looking?’ The same year, Pakistan ranked as the most porn-searching country in the world by Google. Perhaps, Baloch saw an opportunity in the hypocritical society of Pakistan. Young and ambitious; she harnessed the power of social media to earn a living.
Baloch had the talent of remaining in the spotlight, forcing her critics to click on her page. Each and every video, a bigger publicity stunt than the last- sultry, sexy, audacious bordering on ludicrous and often farcical, her antics won her many followers as she capitalized on the country’s lust for flesh.
Baloch’s polarising antics brought her the attention of those who loathed her publicly, but did not shy away from clicking on her seductive videos. She was their shameless guilty pleasure-one whom they enjoyed behind their closed doors yet publicly, shamed and condemned her to the depths of hell.
Baloch’s quest for fame wasn’t new, she entered countless reality TV competitions to find a way to earn a living. How did this girl who once appeared on a competition for Naat recitation (poetry for praising the Prophet PBUH) come to be termed a fiend-loathed by the gatekeepers of chastity and faith?
In the weeks leading up to her murder, a man by the name of Aashiq Hussain came forward claiming to be her ex-husband and the father of her child. It was revealed that she filed for divorce because he used to beat her up. She got herself educated, worked as a hostess on a bus, tried her luck in reality TV competitions, but was ignored many times. I wonder how Pakistan society left her in her weakest moments to fend for herself, and punished her when she raised through the ingenuity and the enterprise of social media.
In her final act of defiance, she exposed the hypocrisy of the misogynistic clergy of Pakistan. She met with Mufti Qavi during Ramadan, and posted selfies and videos with him-where the cleric showcased behaviour less becoming of a religious leader— unable to control his own actions in the presence of this woman and her body.
Our patriarchal world uses a woman’s body as the means to exert control over us. Whether, by associating sin to the act of revealing our bodies, or through criminalizing our choices to cover or by handing out menial sentences to rapists; our autonomy is ripped from our hands daily. And here we see in this meeting, a woman in full control of her body- in an elaborate ruse, fully exposing the male gaze, and stripping our society’s hypocrisies a layer at a time. She posed a threat to the status quo!
That sad reality caused an immense weight over my heart. I never thought Baloch to be a spokesperson for me or my rights. Lacking in eloquence, or gravitas; I did not see her as the arm bearer of social justice. Then why did I feel this debilitating sense of sadness at her cruel murder?
Baloch was not seen as a spokesperson for women’s rights in her life, but in her death, she catapulted to an iconic status and became the last straw in a camel’s back for the cases of honor killings. According to Pakistan penal code, the victims’ families have the right to forgive murderers when they face capital punishment. But, since Baloch’s death, Prosecutors have invoked section 311 of Pakistan’s Penal code in her case to make the State a complainant in the case against her brother, thus eliminating the family’s right to forgive the son.
Many put the blame on Baloch, removing all accountability of the men who lust after her. Until we continue to tie a family’s honor to a woman’s body without keeping men accountable for their actions (e.g. porn search), we cannot properly address honor killing in the Pakistani society.