Did Qandeel Baloch Deserve To Die?
NEW DELHI: Pakistani social media celebrity Qandeel Baloch was killed by her brother in an apparent 'honour killing' in the province of Punjab. Police say the 26 year old was strangled to death.
On Monday, Baloch’s funeral prayers were held and her body laid to rest in a local graveyard.
Baloch had become a social media sensation in Pakistan, posting bold, at times raunchy, photographs, videos and comments. She dared to live life on her own terms in the deeply conservative country.
Pakistani media reports that Baloch’s brothers were upset at her stardom and asked her to quit modelling. Wasim -- the brother suspected of strangling her -- was arrested. He immediately admitted to the killing and said he had “no regrets.”
Baloch’s murder evoked strong responses from Pakistani society -- with several people even condoning the murder. Others, while condemning Baloch’s choice of content, maintained that she did not deserve to die. Largely, however, people unequivocally condemned the murder and defended Baloch’s right to free speech and expression in a democratic country.
Baloch’s life and death and the response they have elicited reflect the deep strains in Pakistani society. The social media star posted content that aimed to change "the typical orthodox mindset" of people in Pakistan -- for which she faced misogynist abuse and death threats. As her brother defended his decision to strangle her to death, several people supported this barbaric act.
Here’s a sample of the tweets following the tragic incident:
The murder and the response to it is reflective of a severe problem in Pakistan -- a country where conservative estimates state that about 500 women die each year in suspected ‘honour killings.’ According to Pakistan’s independent Human Rights Commission, about 1100 women were killed by relatives in the country in the last year alone.
Last month, a teenage girl was burnt alive by her mother in Lahore. Zeenat Bibi, 16, was set on fire by her mother Perveen Bibi about a week after marrying a man of her choice. Perveen, having killed Zeenat, shouted to the neighbours that she killed the girl for bringing “shame” to the family.
In May, a girl was strangled and burnt to death for helping one of her friends elope in Abbottabad. Ambreen Riasat, 17, was drugged and strangled before her body was set on fire in a mini bus on the orders of the village's tribal council. Police reports said that the council members tied Riasat's body to the seats of the Suzuki mini bus that the couple had used to elope, before setting the vehicle on fire.
The widespread problem of honour killings in the conservative country gained international attention after a documentary on the subject won an Oscar this year. In February, director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy's film, “A Girl In The River: The Price Of Forgiveness” won in the best documentary short category.
The documentary is the story of 19 year old Saba Qaiser -- who miraculously survived drowning in a river after having been shot in the head. Unsurprisingly, those who tried to finish her off were none other than her own relatives her father and uncle as happens in most such cases of 'honour'crime.
The film, however, is not just the story of a brave girl who defied death and is now living happily with the man she loved and risked her life for, but centred more on the law of forgiveness that protects the killers. Saba's father and uncle are now free, with little to no remorse for their actions.
Saba, having faced pressure from local elders and the clan, chose to forgive the men who attempted to kill her. A law in Pakistan allows a family member to forgive the perpetrator of a crime committed against them -- leading to all charges being dropped no matter the severity of the crime.
Even in the documentary, Saba’s father boasts that his action protected the “honour” of his clan. “Such grandstanding by a criminal is perhaps the most disturbing part of the documentary. One can hardly find any such example of the state being a silent spectator in the face of such defiance. One wonders if the murderers would have had the same response from the community had they been punished for the crime. Perhaps the narrative would have been very different if there was no legal provision of forgiveness,” wrote Zahid Hussain in an article on the subject published by IPS.
Chinoy condemned Baloch’s murder categorically. "I really feel that no woman is safe in this country, until we start making examples of people, until we start sending men who kill women to jail, unless we literally say there will be no more killing and those who dare will spend the rest of their lives behind bars," she told the AFP news agency.