This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Amrita Paul. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Why Pakistan Loved To Hate Its First Viral Star Qandeel Baloch

More from Amrita Paul

‘You’re going to miss me when I am gone. Kitnay gunday ho aap log waisay, double standard log. You like to watch me, and then you like to say, ‘Why don’t you just die?’’’

As a society, we have systematically suppressed women for so long that even an act of silliness or self-indulgence on their part, is considered as rebellion. One that is tantamount to an immediate dishonour to her family. From celebrities to working-class women, this scrutiny subsumes us to varying degrees – from what we wear to where we work, from what we share on social media to whom we are seen with – even subconsciously, we choose to tread carefully. Sometimes we crave to be invisible, put on blinders and keep trudging on, just to be able to live our lives on our terms.

Or not.

Pakistani actress, model and social media sensation Qandeel Baloch was the country’s viral star, so to speak. She first shot to fame with her audition on Pakistan Idol and kept returning to media spotlight – promising to strip for Shahid Afridi if he won a T20 cricket match against India, wanting to marry Imran Khan after his divorce, and her meeting with senior cleric Mufti Abdul Qawi in his hotel room, where she interviewed him using a selfie stick, sitting on the armrest of his couch, and then promptly proceeding to wear his hat.

Baloch was not afraid of seeking attention. In her videos, she’d lie on her bed with her cat-winged eyeliner and ask you in a slow voice – ‘How I’m looking?’ Beautiful, sexy or hot?

In July 2016, journalist Sanam Maher remembers staring at the television on discovering that Baloch had been a victim of honour killing – she was choked to death by her younger brother for “bringing disrepute” to their family. Earlier she had thought that Baloch would be a great person to focus on while writing a piece about how young women in Pakistan are pushing the envelope on how they can dress speak or present themselves in Pakistan. The piece was never written, lost somewhere between deadlines and switching jobs, but on finding out about her death, Maher didn’t want to let go of her story once again.

Sanam Maher

“In the hours and days after, it was terrible to see the reactions online from many Pakistanis who were very happy that she had been ‘punished’ for behaving the way that she did. I saw acquaintances in my own social media feeds having arguments about whether what had happened was right or wrong, whether Baloch “deserved” what had been done to her. ‘Offline’, many of the men and women I knew were condemning Baloch’s death but then, in the next breath, following their statements with “… but if you think about it…”

She realized that reactions to Baloch’s murder had revealed two very different answers to the question of what it means to be Pakistani, and more crucially, what it means to be a woman living in Pakistan today. Maher feels that this definition is not static, but ever evolving, depending on who you’re talking to. This contradiction forms the crux of her book, The Sensational Life and Death of Qandeel Baloch – “I wanted to tell a story not just about Qandeel, but about that definition. I knew that this book wasn’t just about Qandeel, but about the kind of place that enabled her to become who she did, and the place that ultimately found that it could not tolerate her.”

While the book is very much about who she was, it doesn’t just focus on Baloch. Maher adds, “Since she created a persona that she knew would appeal to us, what we saw reflected back to ourselves when we watched Baloch’s videos or looked at her photographs? So the book uses parts of Baloch’s life in order to open up into a story about Pakistan and young Pakistanis at this particular moment.”

So for instance, when looking at Baloch’s fame as a viral star, she began to think about how her generation of Pakistanis was connected to the world like never before – what they were doing online and what did it mean to go viral in Pakistan? How were they building communities online in order to speak in ways that were not permissible “offline”? What happened when rules of the offline world are broken online, particularly as women?

Maher met everyone from trolls and hacktivists to Nighat Dad, the creator of Pakistan’s first cyber harassment hotline to learn “how our “offline” tendencies, such as our kneejerk reactions to women who don’t behave or look or talk like we might want or expect them to, are creeping online. I wanted to explore how we might be connected to a global space of ideas and possibilities online, but we’re still very much grounded in the society and culture we live in here in Pakistan, and through Baloch’s story and some of the others in the book, you see the terrible ramifications that a clash between the two can have.”

The author finished researching and writing this book in about a year’s time; it was a very tight deadline to not just tell Baloch’s story, but also find a way to talk about the world that she lived in Pakistan. That meant trying to squeeze in more than 100 interviews across the country within a couple of months. But at times, she also felt helpless in trying to report about someone she had never met or spoken to in her life. With all the news reports, gossip, TV shows and documentaries, it didn’t help that everyone she interviewed or spoke to felt convinced that they knew the ‘Baloch story’.

Maher also became pretty used to people asking, “Why would you waste your time writing on someone like Baloch?”, or, “Don’t you have anything more important to work on?” But often, she realized, naysayers can also prove to be helpful.

“Many times I would be interviewing someone and they would be scornful or confused about why I was bothering to write a book when ‘Pakistanis don’t read’, and so they end up telling you a lot more than they would tell a TV reporter or documentary film crew, for instance, because they’re so confident that no one will pick up your work,” she says.

The author feels that people at large didn’t hate Baloch because she was supposedly “bringing dishonour” to her family. Her relatives or people in the village she came from may have felt that and passed judgement on her for that. But in terms of her haters, she thinks some were just amazed that she didn’t seem to give a damn about what people said. In many of her interviews, news anchors repeatedly asked her to stop posting provocative photos or videos – “Don’t you see what people say to you in the comments?” They seemed to constantly be asking, “What kind of woman are you? What kind of woman would behave this way?”

She says, “She didn’t neatly align with our ideas of how women can and should behave, even in the face of criticism, and we just could not stop looking at what she did next.”

In the book, police officer Attiya Jaffrey who was investigating the homicide, asks Maher, “Is becoming Baloch Baloch ‘freedom’?” In her opinion, no matter how headstrong a woman is, she should also be mindful of the society she lives in. In the larger context of women’s emancipation in Pakistan, what is really the answer to this question?

“The answer to the question of what it looks like to have freedom lies partly in our willingness to stop prescribing what it looks like.”

An Anti Honour Killing Bill was passed soon after Baloch’s death (the same year recorded a 1000 deaths by honour killing in Pakistan), but has there been a visible deterrent, keeping families from taking the lives of women who defy them in any way?

Maher thinks that it is going to take a lot more time to see significant, lasting change on the ground, and that change can only come when there is a cultural and social shift when it comes to the motivations for honour crimes against men and women – “Legislation alone cannot bring about the change.”

Ever since the book’s release, the author has been getting messages from readers in Pakistan and all over the world – typing out their thoughts or trying to start a conversation about the questions raised in the book. They send pictures of the book from all over, “Qandeel has been travelling the world!” she says.

Soon after Baloch’s death, her Facebook page had disappeared. The author writes in the book that while it might be impossible for someone to find her unmarked grave in her hometown of Shah Sadar Din, her videos and photographs have been copied and shared across social media platforms, blogs and websites countless times.

“They cannot be erased.”

You must be to comment.

More from Amrita Paul

Similar Posts

By Akshita Pattiyani

By Rushalee Goswami

By Mallika Khosla

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below