Contributor Sitwat Mirza is a second year History student at King’s with an interest in South Asian studies, particularly in how the role of women in politics and human rights activism has changed over time.
[Featured Image: Qandeel Baloch posing for a photoshoot in a red blouse, jeans, and black high heels.]
On 1st March 1990, in a small ordinary home in Dera Ghazi Khan in Punjab, was born a Pakistani social media influencer and fighter against societal norms and restrictions on the public freedom of women. Her name was Fouzia Azeem.
Fouzia was born into a large family with many siblings; she had six brothers and two sisters. Married at the age of 17, Fouzia had a son with Aashiq Hussain. She claimed to have left her husband because he was abusive, and came to the city to pursue her dream career; modelling and acting.
Fouzia Azeem changed her name and identity to ‘Qandeel Baloch’ due to the fear that if her family found out that she was working in the modelling industry, she would be frowned upon and seen as a disrespect on the family’s reputation in their village back in Dera Ghazi Khan. Qandeel grew to fame by attending talk shows and getting in to hot debates with television hosts in interviews. She also actively responded to fan and hate comments on social media platforms like Facebook and uploaded videos on YouTube to further extend her fan base. What brought her to the attention of the media and public awareness was her daring dressing sense and will to challenge traditional norms surrounding the sexual behaviour of women in public. Qandeel was attacked several times for acting ‘indecently’ and posting ‘immoral’ selfies online. She strongly resisted all hate and condemnation and, on many occasions, publicly advocated that she was not doing anyone harm by dressing the way she did or choosing the career that she was pursuing.
Qandeel strongly believed that no one had the right to judge her and she wished to act as a model for other Pakistani women, who desire to do something that does not conform with the traditional norms of their culture. She felt restricted and pressurised by the society she lived in. She also saw that women are not given the freedom to choose how they portray their sexuality, and are quickly labelled as a bad influence by society if they attempt to challenge widely accepted views about the idea of female modesty and sexual passiveness. Qandeel went much further beyond social media and television interviews to get her points across nationally and even globally.
On 10th December 2013, Pakistani Idol published Qandeel’s audition on YouTube. Whilst her looks and style were praised on the reality tv show, she was badly mocked by the judges Bushra Ansari, Hadiqa Kiani and Ali Azmat, for her singing. At the time, there was a lot of controversy surrounding GEO’s credibility in perhaps hiring ‘struggling’ actress, Qandeel Baloch, to humiliate herself on national TV and use her as a means to popularise the show. Qandeel herself has been reported to have posted: “Pakistan idol….lol:) that was a just planted and fake audition, just publicity stunt..what I did there was my acting, hope u people can understand k aisay baray shows hamesha planted game hoti hai [that such big shows are always planted games ]….”.
There are several other controversial issues surrounding Qandeel’s suspected use of social media platforms to desperately gain fame and popularity. One such example is when she offered Pakistani cricket team player, Shahid Afridi, that she would strip for him in a video, if Pakistan won the next cricket match. This topic became a hot debate on Mubashar Luqman’s talk show in 2016 and many other Pakistani talk shows. From her responses on talk shows, she seemed to have a very strong opinion about and confidence in her ability to sing and gain popularity on several different social media platforms, even if the media was attempting to report her Facebook page or condemn her videos on YouTube.
On 15th July 2016, Qandeel was drugged and strangled by her younger brother M. Waseem, whilst she was back home to stay over with her family. From the several documentaries that I have watched on Qandeel’s life and the story behind her ‘honour’ killing, it seems that there was a turning point in her social media presence and certain events in her life that completely turned the media against her. This became an opportunity to expose her hidden identity and her previous life in the village as Fouzia Azeem. One major event was her meeting with Muslim Cleric, Mufti Abdul Qavi, in the Holy Islamic month of Ramadhan. Qandeel’s selfies with Qavi in his hotel room went viral online, and suspected relations between the two made their meeting a highly controversial issue a few weeks prior to her murder. Qavi was blamed for acting inappropriately and Qandeel’s use of this opportunity to reveal his personal life through social media, put his reputation and name as a highly religious figure, under immense threat.
Whilst Qandeel was struggling through the peak of her career, her family back home, were concerned about her whereabouts. Qandeel kept relations with her family and frequently sent money to support her parents and brothers. What is surprising about her relationship with her family is that she was able to hide her career from them, and that they never tried to investigate where she was making such stable earnings from. It was only once the media exposed her false identity on TV and when the media went in to her village to interview her husband and the rest of her family, that it became a ‘mark’ on her family’s name and reputation for her to be working as a model and social media actress. Her brother claimed to have killed her in the name of honour, to protect the name of his family from damage, and to show the world that if your daughter, wife or sister chooses to pursue a career that is not socially accepted in Pakistani culture, she should be punished for her deeds. Controversy over whether the brother should have been jailed for murdering his sister and whether it was lawfully and morally right for him to be able to kill her, resulted in a series of court hearings and mixed views across social media.
The legacy of Qandeel Baloch as a girl who was brought up in a highly restricted and conservative environment, but dreamt of escaping her small village world to pursue her goals, just demonstrates the difficulties and struggles of many other girls in Pakistan today. What she should be remembered for is her daring nature and bravery to challenge the norms of her society. In my opinion, it is morally wrong to take away someone’s life if they chose to live their life in a certain way. She did not do what she did to cause harm to others; she only wished to express herself publicly and openly. What she decided to do may have not conformed with the values that Islam and Pakistani culture teaches, however, at the end of the day, it was her decision to live her life how she wanted to. As a girl aged 26, she was a fully-grown adult who had the right and freedom to choose what she wanted the world to see her as, and under no circumstances is it right for anyone to have taken her life away.
Another really interesting topic to raise here is the public reaction to her death and the sorrow that her death resonated. However much everybody disliked her character and life decisions, she was remembered as someone who wished to stand out and be someone out of the ordinary. If one searches her on her social media platforms, what can be seen is a flood of hate comments insulting her for her indecency and immorality. More recent comments that were posted after her death, empathise with Qandeel and her life struggles.
A year after her death, Urdu 1 TV decided to create a drama serial, named Baaghi meaning ‘rebel’, which attempted to show the true realities of Qandeel’s life. The reason why the writers and producers chose to name the drama ‘rebel’ was because, during her lifetime she wanted to be seen as someone who challenged the social norms of her culture. After having watched the drama serial, one is left with so many questions surrounding her death and the agenda she stood for in her life. I would like to leave you to think upon some powerful questions that the viewer is left with at the end of the drama serial:
‘False reputation, the world’s ego and people’s claims about their honour and reputation, has ended the lives of many Qandeels before their time was up.
The world took away the right that God gave me to establish and better myself.
I was a bad influence on society, I was a threat to people’s morality.
However I was, I am now gone from your world.
Without justifying any of my choices, I just want to ask:
We have now rid the world of all its evils, right?
People’s morality got saved too.
What was the result for our society?
Has it become a better place?’
References https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dXc2VyMuXcc, BAAGHI – Last Episode 28 | Urdu1 ᴴᴰ Drama | Saba Qamar, Osman Khalid Butt, Khalid Malik, Ali Kazmi, published on 2nd February 2018 , accessed 20/01/19
Pakistan Idol Auditions Planted? Another Controversy, URL: https://www.brandsynario.com/pakistan-idol-auditions-planted-another-controversy/, By Sami Iqbal, accessed 17/01/19
Qandeel Baloch murder: Muslim cleric arrested in connection with killing of ‘Pakistan’s Kim Kardashian’ , https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/qandeel-baloch-murder-latest-news-muslim-cleric-pakistan-mufti-abdul-qavi-killing-a8009451.html, By Shehab Khan, published 19th October 2017, accessed 18/01/19