How Social Media Dishonoured Qandeel Baloch

Qandeel Baloch sometimes looked like Amy Winehouse; her death was as tragic as Amy's. Both were on drugs. Winehouse was on the hard stuff; Baloch on the harder one.

Addiction to social media is narcotic. I do not mean the persistent need to check the walls and timelines or click on likes, or even to voice an opinion or an inanity, but the recreating of life online — to be completely subsumed by the persona one has birthed as well as the perceptions. In fact, Baloch was no more her own creation. She was an opinion. As she had said, "Love me or hate me both are in my favour. If you love me I Will always be in your heart, if you hate me I'll always be in your mind."

In the real world, she was killed by her brother — sedated and then strangulated, as her parents slept in the other room, sedated too. This murder falls into the honour-killing category. And immediately, we hear of the yawn-producing argument that these murders should be called dishonour-killings because, they ask, where's the honour.

Such ridiculous assertions forget that by doing so they suggest the victim would have brought dishonor as much as the perpetrator has, when we are in fact talking about misplaced ideas of honour, prevalent in almost all societies.

In Pakistan, the victim's family can forgive the man. Baloch's father has refused. He wants to wreak vengeance upon the son. One article even quoted the parent calling out, "Qandeel, Qandeel!" Strange, because that was not the name she was given at birth. She was Fouzia Azeem. Qandeel Baloch was the pseudonym she chose for herself. To escape, among other things, memories of being forcibly married off by her parents when she was a teen.

It was her new life that took care of them. Baloch was the only earning member. Her brother says he killed her because of the stuff she posted. But it could also be because his male ego could not handle being dependent on a sister, that too one who was unapologetic about her self-portrayal.

The latest news is that her mother says the brother was taunted by his friends regarding his sister's shenanigans, somehow softening the opinion against him. Nobody seems to want to take responsibility for judging her. She is now, as she was then, just a daughter, a sister, a trigger for the self-righteous.

Qandeel Baloch was not as unusual a phenomenon as is made out. The pretty provocative at 26 is often what rebellions are made of. I watched an interview in which she referred to herself as a social media sensation. That was her identity.

It is no different from the social media celebrities around who primarily feed their followers minutiae of their lives — the animals they rear, the food they eat, the places they visit, the clothes they wear. They flash these as a badge of frankness, when what such trivia does is to act as a camouflage for their opinions and feelings or, more likely, lack of them.

They feed on events and trolls. The more trolls they get for a stray comment the more they begin to market their boldness. Being in-your-face is projected as honesty. The cliques to which they belong — and they sure as hell wouldn't survive without them — ensure that their machinery is well-lubricated with their fan-like leech behaviour.

The Qandeel supporters were different. They might have enjoyed her exhibitionism, but they could not possibly invest in her emotionally because they felt they were not equal. As long as she could be patronised, it was okay. In some cases, she reminded them of their own struggles. But, yet again, there was a kid glove treatment.

I watched The Ali Saleem Late Night Show where she appeared alongside Pakistani comic actor Rauf Lala. The latter had the audacity to leer at her and make it seem like doing so was a part of his acceptance of her. He resorted to the typical subcontinental trope of, "You are like my sister." She shot back, "Can't you say daughter?" He agreed, in the same leering manner, "Ok, ok, like a child I've rocked in my lap."

If you think this was just another character from the entertainment industry, then you are wrong. I've witnessed much sniggering by Pakistani liberals online. Upon her death, they might have surely spoken some shit about how horrible honour killing is and how she was merely a misguided youngster. Short of calling her a floozy, because they are so desperate to be politically correct, they meant just that.

Qandeel, obviously, had a different opinion of herself and her agenda. In a Facebook post a day before her death, she had written:

"I believe I am a modern day feminist. I believe in equality. I need not to choose what type of women should be. I don't think there is any need to label ourselves just for sake of society. I am just a women with free thoughts free mindset and I LOVE THE WAY I AM."

But this love for herself was the result of going regularly viral due to the 'love' of others. Did the liberal society ever grant her the status of feminist? Even Mathira, a model and actress known for her item numbers, had mentioned in an earlier interview about her drawing the line somewhere as opposed to Qandeel, who apparently knew of no such line.

Qandeel did a bad version of twerking, she wore transparent clothes and seduced the camera. The viewers were added bonus. And she sang. That's what she wanted to do. That's what nobody was interested in. Unless she sang wearing night clothes in bed just before signing off in a video she shot to share with strangers.

Did anybody notice her voice? Clearly not. Even in that 'understanding' interview with Ali Saleem, the host made her run on a treadmill and sing. To be fair, he made the other guest do so too, but Rauf Lala had no singing ambitions. Qandeel did.

But she was just time-pass for those on social media who even as they while away the hours in their echo chambers look down on people like Qandeel who do the same.

They refuse to accept her not only on her terms, but even on theirs, should she have made it. She had to be kept in her place, even as they pretended not to show her her place.

In the end, the social media voyeurs were witnesses to the murder of Qandeel Baloch.


An earlier one on Amy Winehouse

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