Like a lot of people in the Pakistani community, I have been engulfed in the nail-biting drama, Baaghi. My aunt told my mother about this show, which is loosely based on the tragically, devastating story of the infamous Qandeel Baloch. So I gave my Netflix a well-deserved break, and went on YouTube to watch the show. There had only been 5 episodes released, and like everyone else in my generation, my insatiable need to binge watch was not satisfied. I turned to a few documentaries, and before I knew it, I spent hours watching interviews, reading articles and documentaries about Qandeel Baloch and, in turn, about honour killings.
When I first heard the news of Qandeel Baloch’s horrific murder, which occurred last year at the hands of her own brother, I was stunned and was deeply saddened. I knew of her and of her fame, and in many ways I was proud of her. People forget that Pakistan was founded as a secular state and only really became religiously radicalised by the ultra conservative, far right wing factions after 9/11.
Qandeel represented the repressed women in Pakistan: the women who are afraid of expressing themselves freely because society caged and barred them under preconceived labels. Coming from abject poverty and an abusive home, she fled her marriage and went on to create a new identity for herself online. She instantaneously became a social media phenomenon, being dubbed as the ‘Pakistani Kim Kardashian’. With her provocative videos and sultry, seductive posts, she was both loved and hated by the masses. Those who hated her excelled in slut shaming, but what surprised me the most, and still does, is that the majority of those who followed her were men, and it was these men who ultimately condemned her to her death.
It is widely contested that the Mullah was behind her death, and there are a lot of theories that he paid her brother and cousin to murder her. She exposed the (sleazy) Mullah by posting seductive selfies with him online, which led to his extradition from the religious council he served on. In an attempt to clear his name, many claim, that he was responsible for her death. The evidence is yet to come to the surface, but more than the motives behind her death, an innocent life was brutally taken in the name of ‘honour’ and its that very notion, which makes my blood boil.
Watching the show and countless documentaries around honour killings, affected me on a deeper level, I realised, that I wasn’t crying because I was sad; I was angry. I was angry that these women were robbed of their lives for ‘honour’?
It got me thinking, whose honour is it anyway? What honour is it? And where did this idea of ‘honour’ even come from?
In the subcontinent, and in many parts of India and Pakistan today, societal and cultural norms are deeply entrenched in feudal patriarchy. There is a huge gender disparity, and a preference for male babies over female. Females are unwanted before being born, leading to high numbers of female infanticide (yes, this still happens). Not wanting a female, or seeing a girl or a woman as a ‘burden’ or ‘inferior’ trickles down and seeps into the male psyche and gives way to the twisted justification of honour killings.
When I look at my relatives in Pakistan or even friends who come from a more conservative background, I hear the same thing over and over: women are held to a different standard and have to abide by a different handbook of rules. It can start with something small, such as men being allowed to stay out late whilst girls have a strict curfew.
This isn’t just true of Pakistani society, but of South Asian, Middle Eastern and many other cultural communities around the world. Women have to be more conservative than their male counterparts. Women have to be more obedient, rule abiding, traditional and in general a lot more submissive, otherwise ‘laug kya kehnge?’ (what would people say?) The consequence of non-conformity is dangerously dire and in extreme cases, paving the way to honour killings.
There have been 11,000 reported cases of honour killings in the UK in the past 5 years, and who knows how many occur in the South Asian diaspora, as so many go unreported. Just this week a girl was stripped naked and brutally beaten by her female relatives because she refused to marry someone. The same ‘justifications’ arise over and over again, it’s either that the girl had a boyfriend, has chosen to marry outside of her family’s choice or refuses to marry who her parents have chosen.
Where is the honour in forcing your daughter to get married to someone she doesn’t want to? And how on earth is it justified by killing her if she becomes non-compliant?
Baroness Sayeeda Warsi said in an interview, that calling it an ‘honour killing’ is incorrect, it should be called a crime of control. I agree with her, as it is a form of control. Controlling the lives of women, so they have no freedom, no choice, hell, they don’t even have the permission to dream. One reoccurring question I have is, why does it only apply to women? Why does a family’s ‘honour’ only get tainted because of a woman? When men get up to shenanigans, do they face the same consequences?
We are so quick to shame women for their actions, but when a man does it, they turn a blind eye and occasionally give them a pat on the back.
It’s clear that are double standards at play here - one set of rules for women and none for men. This was just as apparent in the feud between Amir Khan and his wife Faryal Makhdoom. Faryal was wrongly accused of having an affair, which was eventually revealed as a fake screenshot. The global media went crazy, slut shaming her whilst congratulating Amir for hitting up the clubs in Dubai and hooking up with other women. The level of hypocrisy, and double standards infuriated me and I just couldn’t believe it. No one asked her side of the story, instead Pakistani media did what they did to Qandeel, they shamed her and tainted her reputation. Whilst she posted pictures of the Quran and her daughter, he posted videos of being inebriated in clubs.
Islam is the first religion in the world that has preached that men and women are equal, that women have the same rights as our male counterparts. That we women have a right to education, we have a right to refuse any marriage we don’t agree with, we have the right to choose who we want to marry. Yet, somewhere along the ages, this message has not only gotten lost, but has been twisted into the opposite to what we have been taught. We need to be able to stand up to this injustice and stand up for our women. We need to go back to the beginning and learn what our scriptures are trying to teach us. We are equal and we have equal rights, this needs to be apparent in all our homes, so that the next time a Qandeel rises we allow her to be her.