Who Was Qandeel Baloch And Why Was She Killed?

Pakistan's "Kim Kardashian".

16/07/2016 3:45 PM IST | Updated 16/07/2016 4:46 PM IST
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In a video published on YouTube on 26 February, 2016, Pakistani Internet sensation Qandeel Baloch ridicules Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for being a "chaiwallah" who cannot speak English.

For over five minutes, she raves and rants, with dramatic pauses every few seconds, at various injustices in India, including the killing of Muslims during the 2002 Gujarat riots, when Modi was the chief minister of the state. At one point, she raises her voice, demanding "azaadi", freedom, for Kashmir from Indian occupation. As the video comes to an end, Baloch softly intones Modi's name, addresses him as "darling", and says Pakistanis don't believe in fighting: "Hum pyar karne wale log hain (we are a loving people)."

The video may have sprung Qandeel Baloch to short-lived 'fame' among the Indian Prime Minister's fans, but Pakistanis aware of her exploits would say the video was trademark Baloch - irreverent, provocative, OTT and almost hilarious in its cosmetic rage. While many laughed or cringed at her antics, one thing was for sure, Baloch had mustered the courage to do things women in an orthodox Pakistani society would shudder at the consequences of.

Today, Baloch was allegedly gunned down by her own brother in the early hours of the day in Multan. Most reports have called it a case of 'honour-killing'.

Born Fouzia Azeem, the 26-year-old had adopted a pseudonym when she had embarked on her modelling career. She shot to fame in 2014 when a video of her pouting at the camera, a not-so-common sight on social media in Paksitan, went viral.

While duckface selfies may be ubiquitous to some cultures, in Pakistan such modes of self-expression are usually frowned upon. An AFP report, which first described Baloch as a Kim Kardashian-type personality, recorded the frustration of young people in the country, barred from indulging in what would seem like innocent fun for boys and girls in most circumstances. Not only is access to social media regulated by the State in Pakistan, but communication between members of the opposite sexes is strongly discouraged. Not surprisingly, sharing a selfie or a photograph on social media is condemned by the moral police.

Coming from a tribal area in south Punjab and growing up in such a conservative society, Baloch showed exceptional, if reckless, courage when she started flaunting photographs and videos of herself on social media. It was revealed recently that she was married off at the age of 17 to one Aashiq Hussain, and that they had a son together. Although neither party denied the report, each came up conflicting versions of the marriage.

According to Baloch, she was forced into matrimony, tortured by her husband, and kept away from her son. Although she managed to flee with her child, she had to give up custody of him as she failed to pay for his treatment when he had fallen ill.

Hussain, on the other hand, maintained they were very much in love when they married and that he still has love letters written by Baloch to him in her own blood. He said after their wedding she demanded a car and a bungalow from him, which he, presumably, did not provide, leading to the break-up.

As Baloch set out on the path to celebrity, she auditioned for Pakistan Idol, a reality singing contest, and left it bawling inconsolably when she was eliminated from the programme after performing poorly.

Not to be deterred by the setback, she went on to establish herself as a social media icon, setting the Internet on fire with her viral statements and performances. With Rakhi Sawant, Poonam Pandey and Sunny Leone as her role models, Baloch was never away from controversies.

Earlier this year, during the T20 World Cup, she offered to do a "strip dance" if Pakistan beat India and dedicate it to the Pakistani captain, Shahid Afridi. The inspiration behind this was obviously her Indian counterpart, Poonam Pandey, who had dared to do the same in 2011 for the Indian cricket team, but did not have a chance to make good of her promise in spite of the team's win that year.

On Valentine's Day this year, Baloch went on to defy Pakistan's political establishment's strict injunction against observing a Western practice. Wearing a low-cut scarlet dress, she looked straight into the camera and said only "idiot politicians" can ban an occasion to celebrate love. She ended her speech with a heartfelt message for cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan. She wanted to make him her valentine forever, she said. The video went viral and garnered more than 70,000 'likes' in hours.

Last month Baloch was in the news again for getting a Pakistani cleric, Mufti Abdul Qavi, fired from a government committee after she posed for selfies with him wearing his cap. According to Baloch, Qavi had behaved inappropriately with her when they had met on a television show, so she wanted to out him in public and show the world his real colours. The mufti denied her claims and said the meeting was arranged to help her with her Islamic education.

Three weeks ago, Baloch had complained to the interior minister, the director general of the Federal Investigation Authority and senior superintendent of Islamabad after her identification papers were made public on social media. She had also been receiving calls threatening to do harm to her, but did not get any security in spite of repeated request to the authorities. Not one to be deterred, she continued with her social media self-promotions, describing herself as a 'One Woman Army' on her Facebook page.

She had planned to leave the country with her parents after Id-ul-Fitr, but was tragically killed by one of her brothers, who had been upset with her and had warned her of dire consequences if she did not mend her ways. The crime was reported by her own father, after which social media exploded with outrage, especially for calling her murder an act of "honour killing".

Qandeel Baloch had the last word on who she was and the effect she had on fellow Pakistanis. Looked upon as a role model by some, reviled by others, her death is a reminder again of the sheer brutality of patriarchy.

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