Social media star Qandeel Baloch’s death at the hands of her brother for leading a lifestyle which challenged conservative societal norms in Pakistan reflects the retrograde and intolerant mindset that discriminates women and is accepted by the country’s legal system
By Firoz Bakht Ahmed
That Pakistan’s society has sold its soul to the devil, has once again been proved by the killing of Qandeel Baloch under the heinous and politicized banner of “honor killing”— an act of the most barbaric kind by Pakistani Muslims. These Pakistanis persist in killing the poor Qandeels of the world and Sufi singers like Amjad Sabri who want to fight against exploitation and want to lead their own lives. However, they felicitate dreaded terrorists like Hafiz Saeed. If they can attack a Malala going to school, how can they leave the Qandeels and Amjads with that archaic, retrograde and closed mindsets?
All of us must consider the questions thrown up by the premise of Qandeel’s petition in 2006 and now her demonization and murder. Earlier in 2006, Qandeel, a girl from Gujranwala (in the Punjab province of Pakistan) applied for admission to King Edward Medical College, Lahore, but was rejected. Instead, another student, who was awarded 20 additional marks for being a hafiz-e-Quran (one who knows the Quran or is faithful), was accepted. Qandeel, the aggrieved Christian girl, has since posed the following question before the Lahore High Court: Is she, a Pakistani Christian, equal to a fellow Muslim citizen? With this kind of social setup, can minorities really feel that they have equal opportunities in Pakistan where the constitution states that the head of the state has to be a Muslim; where the blasphemy law is used routinely to victimize them; where knowledge of other religions is not valued at par with knowledge of Islam?
Qandeel Baloch, a social media star whose exploits divided opinion in conservative Pakistan, was strangled by her brother Waseem, who himself as per the police record, was a drunkard and an addict, in what appears to be a so-called “honor killing”. Qandeel’s racy social media photos challenged social norms in Pakistan, a deeply traditional Muslim country where women are often repressed by their family or the community. Her killing shocked the world. She had been receiving multiple death threats and suffered frequent misogynist abuse, but continued posting provocative pictures and videos.
Qandeel had asked questions that disturbed almost all minority Pakistanis. She was challenging a legal system riddled with flaws and internal contradictions. According to Article 22 of the constitution of Pakistan: “No citizen shall be denied admission to any educational institution receiving aid from public revenues on the ground only of race, religion, caste or place of birth.” According to Article 27: “No citizen otherwise qualified for appointment in the service of Pakistan shall be discriminated against in respect of any such appointment on the ground only of race, religion, caste, sex, residence or place of birth.” From this it would appear that the treatment meted out to Qandeel, amounted to a violation of the constitution.
Her plea for better security was ignored by the government despite requests made three weeks prior to her death to the interior minister and other senior officials. Qandeel divided opinion in Pakistan, a largely conservative nation, as she appeared on television to speak about female empowerment, often dressed in non-traditional, revealing, clothes. She began her career by auditioning on Pakistan Idol (a reality show featuring singing talent) and soon after launched a social media enterprise, posting videos that went viral.
On her final, July 4 post on her Facebook page, which has almost 800,000 fans, Qandeel wrote: “I am trying to change the typical orthodox mindset of people who don’t wanna come out of their shells of false beliefs and old practices.” Her apparent “honor killing” has caused outrage the world over. Sherry Rahman, a Senator and outspoken advocate for the rights of women and minorities, called for the national assembly to pass an anti-honor killing bill.
This is sadly, not the first example of the dismal indifference towards minorities and disregard for the constitution. Pakistan’s history has illustrated the government’s failure to protect the rights of minorities. It has also time and again reminded society that the much-contested blasphemy law is a tool for victimization, demonization and persecution of the minorities. This is what Qandeel wanted to stop.
In the name of honour killing, the Pakistanis have become butchers and beasts, ignoring the fact that this is absolutely un-Islamic act! The profane act of killing a young woman model is blasphemy itself. The law, which is essentially the Islamic Sharia law of Diyat, tips the balance in favor of the men attacking women as a result of which several hundred lives are lost every year. Women are callously killed in the name of honor if they go against the will of their families in any way, or even if there’s suspicion suggesting so.
According to a report by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, 995 women were killed in 2014 in the name of honor while 869 women were eliminated in 2013. In 2011, this figure was close to 900, including 93 minors. Pakistan’s legal system has no law enforcing punishment in case of “honor killing”, if the accused can get a pardon from the family. And since the assailant is, more often than not, a blood-relative these pardons are easy to obtain after which the state has absolutely no say in the matter. The void left by the state is filled by tribes and local elders who continue to encourage the sickening culture. Even in the face of rising demands for basic rights for women, Pakistan has openly abdicated itself from the responsibility calling “honor killing” a feature of a feudal society.
Nida Kirmani, who teaches sociology at Lahore University, said: “She (Quandeel) was a woman who was living life on her own terms, she wasn’t afraid … she was fun, loud, bold brash and beautiful—we would like to drown out those voices who think she deserved it because of the way she was behaving.” According to Veena Malik, well-known Pakistani actor: “We feel that there is no value to a woman’s life if she doesn’t live in a particular way … in the bounds of what a conservative, patriarchal society expects of you. We’re here to protest that.”
—The writer is a community worker, educationist, and
grandnephew of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad
Lead picture: Social media star Qandeel Baloch