I feel the same way about Pakistani society failing its women as I feel about land mines – someone is bound to get maimed, pretty regularly. When Qandeel Balooch was drugged and strangled by her brother, I was abroad. What is worse than Pakistan failing its women is getting the news when you are on another continent. The distance adds to the misery. I could have held up a protest banner that echoes her #OneWomanArmy slogan. I could have signed a petition. To me, she was a feminist, not just a social media sensation.
In her death, Qandeel Balooch did just as much as she did alive. The opposite of death is vitality and she was so full of it. She tweaked, she let out husky noises and most of all she offended the sensitivities of men who believed in the oft-lived double life of craving her while condemning her – Fully comfortable in the realm of cognitive dissonance. I know many men who believed that their religious sensitivities were insulted by Qandeel. I also know many women who felt unnerved and threatened by her. Men can continue to wallow in their hypocrisy, it’s the women’s reaction that greatly disappoints me.
One particular women I was acquainted with went ahead to mouth the words: “good riddance” about Qandeel’s murder. She forgot that no one with a beating heart should be straggled to death with the violence that perhaps even barbarians don’t deserve. Qandeel was just up to some mischief. This is the one thing women are not allowed to have. It is only reserved for men. As women condemn Qandeel, they also forget that she is the one who bought them some more sacred space to be themselves.
In a body shaming culture, women are now freer to be who they are because of Qandeel. In a body hiding culture, women can expose slightly more than their eyelashes. In a culture that believes women are an afterthought, they can now occupy slightly more room than just the vanilla background. In a place where women’s voices are reserved for funerals, they can be more mainstream. Where everything boring was associated for women, there is now this obscure thing called fun.
Or there was fun, until she was honor killed.
About 500 or so women saw this fate only this year. This is a number that can fill an auditorium. Some men who felt that his honor was hinged to women’s behavior took their lives. It is time that we cut the tie between women actions and men’s dignity. As alien as this concept it, it is the only way forward – Unless we want the war on women to continue unabated.
To the women who were threatened by Qanteel and feel she was no feminist icon I ask: are they better off now? Now that a woman with a social media presence that spread into the millions is murdered, they can be sure ordinary women are more accessible to their killers. Now that a woman who wore her sexuality on her sleeve was choked to death, they better adopt the culture of permission-seeking from their male guardian as a standard procedure. Qandeel was only buying them their own freedom.
That kind of courage only comes from deep cuts. Qandeel was married off at 17 to a man who in her own words treated her like an animal. When she tried to escape her fate, her family did not support her. Somehow, in what is not short of a miracle she liberated herself, literally and figuratively. Financially too. In her liberation, she exposed the hypocrisy and rot in our society. In her death she helped us discover that there are some women whose morality allows them to cross many religio-cultural boundaries and also justify it, yet on the other hand they condemn Qandeel for her own lived experience – A case of pot calling the kettle.
In her quest to do a striptease for our cricket team if they won, she was really telling the world that she has thrown away the ownership of any man over her. Her freedom dance was premature.
Rest in peace, Qandeel. I have come back to a country that is reeling in confusion. I have come back to a country that is also now questioning its slippery laws and its lopsided victim-blaming tilts. It’s reviewing if its ok for murderers to get off the hook thanks to a pardon. For that small victory in dark times, we only have Qandeel to thank.