The Sensational Life & Death of Qandeel Baloch – a book review


The Sensational Life & Death of Qandeel Baloch by  Sanam Maher, Aleph, INR 599/

Qandeel Baloch was Pakistan’s first social media star in a country where women were normally shrouded in black and expected to stay quietly at home. She was born in a village and, in an attempt to escape from her dull anonymity, the woman who was Fauzia Waseem reinvented herself. Qandeel Baloch fast forwarded into diva mode offering to do things like take her clothes off for the cricketer Shahid Afridi if he beat India in a match, or proposing to cricketer turned politician Imran Khan. She meant none of it but the men in patriarchal Pakistan called her shameless and her brother, a day after she told the media that she feared for her life, finally strangled her in what he called an honour killing,.

Waseem owned up to his crime announcing that he believed “girls are born only to stay at home and bring honour to the family. My sister never did that.” He was convinced that he would get off lightly; but what followed was historic where honour killing trials were concerned in Pakistan. His parents did not approve of his act and their attitude helped to fast track an order against honour killings, while Qandeel went down in history as a kind of activist, someone who was trying to expose the double standards of Pakistani men and who lost her life for it. What her brother did, though, was only carried out under social pressure after her identity became an open secret – before that he was quite comfortable living off her money and fame.

The point was, that if her younger brother had not killed her there were other men in Pakistan who would have. Journalist Sanam Maher takes Baloch’s funny, sexy online life and matches it with that of other people also striving for recognition in a difficult society – like the hot chaiwala for instance who created an instant online buzz but was unable to sustain interest since he had no idea how to do it. In Baloch’s case, she was in your face, gauged her audience and never missed a chance to provoke. The responses to her deliberately titillating posts and videos were instantaneous.

She went through many lives and a failed first marriage before she found her way into social media. Baloch was well aware that was she was doing was suicidal and she announced it many times but because she was such a drama queen, no one took her seriously. Instead, men asked her to sleep with them  or perform sexual acts and were indignant when she called them shameless. After her death a mullah announced on national television that it was because of her girls from good homes would think twice before wanting to become an actress or a singer.  Maher does not attempt to judge what Baloch did and why she did it – hers is a clinical examination of known facts.

Apart from recording all this efficiently, the journalist examines the stories of other women who could have become Baloch but so far manage to endure on the razor’s edge. Their lives are woven into the story of Baloch’s journey from the south of Punjab to Islamabad to Karachi and then back to her village on the night she was killed. Many of the women are game changers in their search for recognition colliding violently with Pakistan’s traditions but nonetheless surviving while keeping their fingers crossed. One had her mother and uncle killed by a stalker inches away but managed to escape, though how long her luck will last is unsure.

One thing is certain those arrested for honour killing cannot escape jail – all the Government can do is spare the death penalty. Qandeel Baloch was responsible for that. Perhaps she might have laughed.