On Qandeel Baloch and ‘Honour’ Killing

[Disclaimer: The image above does not belong to me]

‘Masculinity so fragile, a woman only needs to breathe to break it’

It is true, that one of the most influential platforms that change makers in Pakistan have used to convey a social message is the drama industry. Urdu One recently aired a drama titled, ‘Baaghi’ (noun: rebel) which is more or less a biopic of the life and death of Qandeel Baloch (born Fouzia Azeem). Qandeel Baloch was a girl from Multan who quickly became a social media sensation with her explicit videos and provocative posts on Facebook. Her videos gained mixed responses but ultimately the negative responses prevailed.

I do not feel the need to review the drama or how accurate it was in portraying her story but it did however remind me of what Qandeel’s murder has been symbolic of.

Her death symbolised intolerance and the perils of patriarchy. It symbolised the fact that when a woman (cis) is murdered because of her actions or her beliefs, it is not a death it is a lesson. This lesson is preserved for those who are categorised as sinners. In Pakistan, once you’ve been categorised as a sinner, there is nothing you can do to purify yourself in the eyes of the people. There will always be someone there to remind you that you are not worthy of living the rest of your life as a Muslim. It is in these situations, where man decides to play God, deliver ‘justice’ and prove to the community that there is no room for forgiveness when one rebels.

Just like that, Qandeel’s brother first drugged, then strangulated her in 2016 due to the misguided belief that her actions were bringing shame to the family’s name and that this was done in order to save the family’s ‘honour’…

Honour. I see this word, this concept used so often (quite incorrectly, might I add) in Pakistan. What is honour? And how is it lost so easily. If it is lost, how does it allow men to kill their sisters, daughters or even mothers? If it isn’t honour, it is dignity, if it isn’t dignity it is reputation. These concepts are something South Asian men hold onto dearly and it is as if these concepts depend upon women making mistakes. They are the reason why it is so difficult to dismantle the patriarchal hegemony in Pakistan.

That’s the thing about patriarchy. It assumes that when men err, it is excusable or worse, it should be dismissed entirely. But when a woman makes a mistake, she becomes the representative for all females. She becomes the reason inhumane treatment and murder become valid and justified. She becomes the reason why women’s thoughts and their presence should be drowned out, suffocated.

Of the 99 Names and Attributes of God, ‘Ar-Rahman, the Most Merciful’ is the most divine name relied upon when seeking salvation. His mercy exists and embraces all human beings, even if you do not agree. It teaches us that because our God is merciful, we must also be merciful towards His creation. Allah, Exalted is He, says in the Holy Quran that if you kill one innocent human being, it is as if you have killed all of humanity [Quran, 5:32]. Why does this verse not ring true when it is truly needed? Despite accepting Islam as their religion, it is the men in South Asia that defy this revelation. For this reason, they have killed all of humanity over and over again but no one, not even women dare bat an eyelid.

I am bringing Islam into this discussion because it is Muslim men who so proudly murder or hurt the women in their family in the name of honour. It is Muslim men who have become so inflated with their ego, that they seldom realise the consequences of murdering women and young girls for actions that they deem evil and they deem unforgiveable.

Needless to say, there is no honour in killing. You have not done a favour to your family, or your community, or your religion by taking the life of an innocent person on the grounds that they do not think the same way you do. Regardless of what Qandeel Baloch chose to do in her public or private life, she did not deserve that fate. Men in the South Asian community hold an unwavering belief that they have been created with a higher status than women, a belief that is completely contradictory to the teachings of Islam. It is heinous crimes like honour killings that tarnish the image of our religion. That leave Muslims living in the West having to justify (why should we?) that our religion does not oppress women, it is the lack of education. Lack of education creates barbarism, intolerance and patriarchal dominance. Only when we place a pen in the hands of young men and women, will we be able to truly say ‘no more’ to the thousands of Qandeels, Tasleems and Zeenats, whose lives have been taken because of the false perception of honour and reputation.

To my dismay, the comments that were circling the South Asian community during the time of her death were appalling. People (many of whom were also female) commenting that she deserved this fate. And that this is the consequence of those who deviate from the ‘straight path’. This is exactly what is so worrying about our community. They are so accustomed to passing judgements; waiting for the moment someone in their own community makes a human error, so that they may remind them of their inherent flaws. It was only when a drama was made about her life, when she was characterised as ‘helpless’ and ‘desperate’ that people began to see her death as a murder. Is that the only way a woman’s life is honoured?

In saying this, I am certainly not suggesting that I am in favour of her choices or her lifestyle. Nor do my viewpoints align with hers. However, this does not give any human being the right to take the law into his or her own hands. This certainly does not mean that our lives are more valuable than hers, and that any cruelty or inhumane treatment becomes valid, just because someone else is sinning on a different level than yourself.

I will end this with a dialogue from the last episode of, ‘Baaghi’, words which rang truer than ever.

‘jhooti izzat aur bey maine ghairat ne mujh jaise kahi Qandeelo ko waqt se pehle buhjadiya. Sambhalne aur badalne ka jo haqq Khuda ne mujhe diya tha who ap ne cheen liya. Mai moshre ke liye kharaab thi, logo ke ikhlaaq ke liye khatra thi, mai jaise bhi thi. Ap ke dunya se chali gayi. Apne koi safaish peysh karne ke baghair me sirf ye poch na chati hoon ke ab toh burai khatam ho gayi na? Logo ke ikhlaaq bhi bach gaye. Mashra? Uska kya hua? Mashra theek ho gaya?’ 

‘False honour and pointless reputation have burnt out many candles like myself too early (Qandeel in English means candle). You have taken away my right to change and become a better person, a right that God gave me. I was labelled wrong by society; I was considered a threat to the people’s morals. But however I was, I have now left your world. Without giving any justification I simply want to ask one question. Now that the evil has been eradicated and people’s morals have been saved. What about society? Has our society become any better?’

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