Titillate us, entertain us, even educate us, but please, don’t talk about rights

Women Protest Qandeel murder

Women and men in Peshawar protest Qandeel Baloch’s murder. Photo via Javed Aziz Khan

Pakistani model and social media icon Qandeel Baloch rocked the boat with outrageous antics like offering to strip if Shahid Afridi led the Pakistan cricket team to victory against India in the T20 match a few months ago. Yesterday, her brother in Multan strangled her to death in apparently because she was bringing a bad name to the family — a family she financially supported.

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Talking to television journalist Munizae Jahangir some time back about the criticism she recieved, she had said “Jab izzat hai hi nahin meri toh phir izzat ko khatra kese ho sakta hai?” (If I have no ‘honour’ then how is my ‘honour’ in danger?’). The interview was never broadcast because the TV channel considered it too ‘light’ for prime time.

“Honour” or “blasphemy” killings often mask the actual motive – property disputes, financial matters, social jealousies. But whatever the motive for the murder, it’s clear that

Pakistanis tolerated Qandeel “as long as she was nothing but a sex object, because they were titillated,” writes Hamna Zubair in Qandeel Baloch is dead because we hate women who don’t conform (Dawn, July 16, 2016). I’ll add to the title:Especially when they start catalysing change.

When the self-made young woman from a modest background started entertaining for a cause — women’s empowerment — the condemnation grew more vicious.

What Qandeel may have started “as a lark”, writes Hamna Zubair, was clearly becoming very personal to her. “She was beginning to understand the significance and reach her fame afforded her, and she seemed to have adopted a narrative of empowerment that would resonate not only with the international community, but also with Pakistan’s more progressive population.”

This is true also for other women too – Mukhtiar Mai, Malala Yousufzai and so many others. The Pakistan government initially supported Mukhtiar Mai but she faced a vilification campaign and Gen. Musharraf personally barred her from leaving the country. “They supported me first but it was only after I started raising a voice for others that I ran into problems,” she says.

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