By Sadiq Saleem
Our patriarchy-fueled country is inhabited by so many who can never come to terms with the realization that this space belongs to women just as much as men. One horrifying example of this worldview can be found in the story of social media star Qandeel Baloch, a girl who came out of nowhere and climbed the ladder of fame, or infamy, depending on the school of morality you come from, and whose non-conformist ways earned her ridicule, Internet trolls and ultimately an untimely, haunting death.
Baloch was adored by some, hated by others but could never be ignored. Her unexpected fame made men uncomfortable and became an indictment against the male order. In a revolting display of cowardice, they resorted to an act that tears your soul forever – that is, taking the life of an innocent person. In some ways, it’s hard to believe that a year has passed since Baloch was brutally murdered by her own brother.
When it first happened, it sent shock waves across the country and beyond. Messages started pouring in from around the world and flooded one’s timelines. She was neither an actor nor a television star but her death prompted a response from prominent figures like Sherry Rehman, Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy as well as international icons like Miley Cyrus, the Kardashian Sisters and Riz Ahmed – whose music group Swet Shop Boys made a music video called ‘Aaja’ (featuring Ali Sethi) and dedicated it to the late star.
Though Baloch’s murder falls in the category of ‘honour killing’, a sad, grotesque reality in Pakistan, it captivated people for all kinds of reasons. Whatever you may think about Baloch, she was smart enough to touch all the vulnerable pressure points that exist in society and commanded responses from names as big as Narender Modi, Shahid Afridi and Imran Khan. Her fan following was not just about numbers; even those who hated her stayed updated on her every move in every video she released. When stars dubsmashed her videos, it proved to be a catalyst for her increasing popularity. Rumors also suggest that Baloch was being considered to participate in last year’s edition of hit reality TV series, Big Boss.
Not many people know this but years ago, Baloch was actually rejected by the judges of Pakistan Idol which she did not take lightly. True to her nature, she created a scene during the auditions and before she was pulled out, she challenged all the judges that she would be back and that the “world would be on her feet”.
Gutsy and brutally honest, if she liked the water, she swam; if she liked the floor, she danced. But attributes that should’ve been celebrated ironically made her unacceptable to a society that remains entrenched in misogyny and conservatism.
Had she been living in the West, she would have been just another Internet star, famous one day and forgotten the next. But residing in this part of the world meant she had to pay a price and a heavy one at that.
When Valentine’s Day celebration got banned in the country last year, Baloch spoke up against it and openly challenged authorities by stating “you cannot stop anyone from spreading love”. It was a sentiment that echoed with people, particularly teenagers.
She made controversial moves as well such as proposing to cricketer-turned-philanthropist-politician Imran Khan when he got divorced and offering to dance in the nude if Shahid Afridi performed well in the World Cup series, with the latter remark making her one of the most searched personalities in Pakistan.
Like so many controversial deaths in history, hers too is heading to the celluloid. In an upcoming TV biopic called Baaghi, Baloch will be brought to life by Saba Qamar while Sarmad Khoosat will essay the role of Baloch’s brother and Ali Kazmi will be seen essaying the part of Baloch’s estranged husband.
In the end, her death has created a rift within society. Some believe that she was obscene and deserved what happened to her while others who don’t necessarily endorse her conduct clearly have a problem with her thoughtless murder, committed in the name of honour. Now that she lays buried in her hometown, I hope she is always remembered as the social media star whose time came far too soon.