By Rohini Banerjee for Cake:
“The murder of Qandeel Baloch sends a very frightening message to every woman in Pakistan: WE WILL CONTINUE TO BE KILLED. They will find a reason for all of us, one by one until we can challenge this toxic brand of masculinity and honour,” wrote Chayn (a Pakistani gender-based resource), in light of the horrific “honour killing” of this Pakistani social media star and model. These lines ring loudly and poignantly—because it’s a reality too many women have faced, and continue to face.
I first stumbled upon Qandeel Baloch’s Facebook page only a few weeks back, and was instantly fascinated by it. Here was a woman boldly staking claim to her body, her sexual agency, in a society where it was an absolute taboo to do so. There were pictures of her in what one might term “revealing clothes,” but none of them were even close to sexual objectification or pandering to the male gaze—they were expressions of herself, of her unabashed celebration of her womanhood and her refusal to stick to convention. She wore the same clothes often—a white bathrobe, a pink polka-dot dress—refusing to adhere not just the sexist norms which continued to police women’s bodies, but also traditional mores of fashion. But more than anything, she had a sense of humour and a powerful voice; she spoke up against the patriarchy and advocated women’s rights. “I am girl power,” she had said once in an interview; and in so many ways, she was.
But, in a society like ours, women with powerful voices like Qandeel’s are sadly, constantly put down, and so was the case with her. While going through her Facebook , I (predictably) encountered an extraordinarily large number of comments (all from men, mind you) slut-shaming her, vilifying her, and disturbingly—issuing death threats. Apparently, the death threats were not confined to just the internet, and were issued to her in her daily life as well—which had prompted her to move to Dubai for safety. Ironically, the blow came from within her family itself, and it was her own brother who murdered her—to “restore the family’s honour,” because apparently, a woman having agency and control over her own body is immensely threatening to the patriarchal family structure. “I have no regrets,” said the brother about the murder.
Qandeel is not the first or only woman to have fallen prey to the cold-blooded atrocity that is an “honour killing.” Last year, Oscar-winning Pakistani filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy had made a bone-chilling documentary on honour killings in Pakistan, called “A Girl in The River”, which brought to light the brutal, gory details of how so many girls and women in Pakistan are murdered by their own families for not adhering to their wishes (or to patriarchal norms). The documentary had spurred many to action, and the government was put under so much pressure that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had promised legislation to crack down upon honour killings. But sadly, no concrete bills prohibiting such killings have been put into place till date.
Qandeel’s case is extremely devastating, and shows just how much internalized misogyny our society continues to harbour. It is okay—and the norm, even—when a woman undresses for the male gaze (or when a man undresses her), feeding heterosexual male lust; but when a woman displays her body on her own terms, when her sexuality is under no obligation to pander to a man, then she is a “threat,” a “slut,” an “aberration”—vile enough to be murdered. Qandeel had escaped an abusive marriage as a teenager, had tried to break out of this “mardon ki society” (a man’s world), and had wanted to be an example to and inspire fellow Pakistani women to do the same.
The “honour killing” was meant to silence her voice—a voice which boldly rang out against the generations of violence and moral policing meted out to Pakistani women (albeit, in her own unique style)—but little did they know that such a voice cannot be drowned out so easily. In fact, this incident actually inspires more women to speak up, to rebel, to break norms, and to be “bold.”Rest in Power, Qandeel. Your spirit will continue to shine on and smash the patriarchy.
Featured image source: Facebook/Qandeel Baloch.
Banner image source: Facebook/Qandeel Baloch