A young girl from a modest background plummets to social media stardom on the simple yet effective formula of controversy and consistency to climb up the fame ladder. Qandeel Baloch, whose real name is Fauzia Azeem, first made news when she auditioned for singing talent show Pakistan Idol. The audition video went viral on Facebook due to her reaction at being rejected by the panel of judges. Social media users began mocking her but in the digital age, this only helped her gain publicity. Qandeel Baloch leveraged the incident and became a social media sensation who posted risque images and videos of herself.
Although the scandalous nature and the shock value that Baloch brought to social media in Pakistan, a country with strict conservative values – especially for women – earned her a huge following, she attracted a lot of criticism, was called names, ridiculed, managed to offend a lot of people and was considered blasphemous due to openly displaying her sexuality.
Last week, she was killed by her brother in an incident that would be termed anywhere else in the world as an incident of ‘domestic violence’. However, since the incident, Pakistani media – and now the media across the globe – have been debating honour killings as well as reporting other such incidents of murder.
Qandeel, who was a frequent favourite on the Pakistani social media sphere for a few years now, had recently sparked a new controversy by posting pictures with clergyman Mufti Abdul Qavi. Baloch claimed she had received several death threats, including threats from Qavi himself.
Her brother Waseem Baloch, who has been arrested for her murder, admits to not feeling any guilt for having killed her as it was in an attempt to save the family’s honour. In a statement to the press, Waseem claimed that Qandeel had been causing a lot of controversy recently especially in regards to the incident with Qavi.
Qavi, whose membership was suspended from the Ruet-e-Hilal Committee as well as Pakistan Tehreek Insaaf after the scandalous pictures were posted online, had also chimed in after her death and while he says he has forgiven her, he also stated that this incident should serve as an example to anyone who attempts to bring shame to the name of the clergy.
Qandeel’s murder has divided opinion in conservative Pakistan. Not just the Pakistan media, but media around the world has been following the development with her name and images published across the news. Her controversial image has ensured the news of her murder is gaining the attention of people worldwide, with Qandeel gaining more prominence in death as compared to what she sought in life.
In her mind, she was taking a stand for women by being the way she was.
The recent controversy involving Qandeel and her estranged husband was another scandal that could have possibly led to her murder. She claimed she was forcefully married off at the age of 17 to a much older man with whom she had a son. However, she had to walk out of the marriage as a result of the torture and abuse she faced at the hands of her former husband.
Other incidents honour killings have also been reported in Pakistan so much so to have inspired the ever-so-elusive Prime Minister earlier this year to make a statement emphasising that there is after all “‘no honour’ in honour killings”. The incident however poses the danger of sparking off a harmful and right-wing rhetoric that may reinforce the belief that such murders are justified.
Earlier this year, the Council of Islamic Ideology in an attempt to override a women’s protection law, produced a Bill that recommend among other things the rendering of law for men to ‘lightly beat women’. The recommendations faced severe backlash, including a press release from Human Rights Commission of Pakistan which Chairperson Zohra Yusuf refered to it as “payback for the women protection Bill” and stated that it “exposes the mindset of the zealots occupying the CII, who should be removed from their posts immediately”.
While Waseem has been arrested and Qavi himself is also under investigation for the murder, the bigger question remains of the harmful consequences of ‘honour killing’ of such nature. Right-wing statements claiming that it was “only a matter of time” before Qandeel was murdered may exacerbate the debate on honour killings and may inadvertently spark off a dangerous trend with irrevocable and permanent damage, similar to the nuclear-like blasphemy law matter.