‘Honour killing’ of Qandeel Baloch provokes public outcry

Social media star represented a generation of increasingly independent Pakistani women

indian women activists decry the murder of Pakistani model Quandeel Baloch, who was allegedly strangled by her brother in a case of honour killing. Video: Reuters

 

The killing of Qandeel Baloch, a social media star some called the Kim Kardashian of Pakistan, provoked an outcry on social media from Pakistani feminists and others who saw the 26-year-old as a symbol of women’s empowerment.

Baloch had attracted a huge following, and no shortage of controversy, on social media with provocative photos and videos. But on the night of July 15th, she was drugged and strangled by her brother as she slept at her parents’ home in Muzaffarabad, a town on the outskirts of Multan in Punjab province, police said.

After he was arrested last Saturday, the brother, Waseem Ahmed Azeem, said he had killed her because of the “shameful” pictures she had posted to Facebook.

Rafia Zakaria, a columnist for the newspaper Dawn and the author of The Upstairs Wife, a book about the place of women in Pakistani culture, said that in a young and increasingly urban society, Baloch had represented a generation of women who were increasingly independent and who used technology to express themselves.

“This is a new weapon in the hands of Pakistani women,” she said in a telephone interview. Reem Wasay wrote of Baloch in Dawn: “She had questionable taste and she openly mocked our outrage, but she made a lot of us root for her because she was so unbelievable we almost thought she was invincible.”

ByTuesday morning last, more than 3,000 people had signed an online petition, posted by a feminist collective, that condemned Baloch’s death, called her “a rebel, an artist, and a gutsy feminist provocateur”, and mourned her, along with victims of domestic violence in the United States and elsewhere.

But while many people lauded Baloch, others celebrated her death on social media. There are hundreds of “honour killings” in Pakistan each year, and the assailants often go free because a legal loophole in the country allows authorities not to prosecute a murder case if the victim’s family forgives the killer.

After a public outcry over Baloch’s death, however, officials announced that the Azeem family would be barred from pardoning her killer. Women’s rights advocates welcomed the move but said Pakistan should change the law to ban such pardons in all cases.

Forced marriage

Authorities also said they were investigating a high-ranking cleric, Mufti Abdul Qavi, who had appeared with Baloch in selfies taken in a hotel room last month. The photos prompted Qavi’s removal from a religious committee that determines when Ramadan starts and ends based on the moon’s sighting.

In remarks to GeoTV, Baloch’s mother accused Qavi of provoking Azeem into killing her daughter. But Qavi said that he had met with her only to discuss the teachings of Islam.

Born Fauzia Azeem into a poor family in a small town in Punjab province, Baloch said she was forced into marriage at age 17. According to new reports, she had a child who lives with her former husband. Her first foray into the public eye was a disastrous audition on “Pakistan Idol”. She was escorted offstage by one of the hosts and ended the segment in tears.

Her rejection from the mainstream entertainment industry spurred her to cultivate a following on social media with a mix of campy, sexy videos and messages about female empowerment. Speaking mostly in Urdu, she discussed topics like her crush on Imran Khan, the cricket star turned politician.

She called herself a “one-woman army”, often recording herself alone in her bedroom or sometimes pulling stunts like promising to striptease if Pakistan won a cricket match. After her death, her father said she had been supporting her family – including the brother who killed her.

“She’s so self-made,” Zakaria said. “She’s taking bits and pieces she’s seen in social media, in magazines. She’s very much like the internet phenomenon anywhere. And people found her entertaining and liked her.”

“She was very titillating and the Pakistani men who found her titillating would not admit it,” she added. “And that’s the bluff that she was calling out: You think I’m so bad but you want me.”

That also made her a lightning rod for criticism in a conservative society. “Everybody was talking about her,” said Malik Siraj Akbar, a Pakistani journalist now based in Washington, where he leads a think tank called the Balochistan Institute.

He is Baloch, an ethnic minority in Pakistan. Baloch was, too, and that apparently inspired her stage name. But many Baloch people were upset because she was seen as bringing disrepute to the community, Akbar said by phone.

“Men would condemn her, but I’m sure they were all secretly following her stuff on Instagram, ” he added. Nighat Dad, the Lahore-based executive director of the Digital Rights Foundation and a member of the feminist collective that posted the petition celebrating Baloch, said that after writing on Twitter about the case, she had received an unprecedented backlash. “I have never heard this kind of hate,” she said in an interview.

New York Times

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