October 14, 2016 - Comments Off on After the Murder of Qandeel Baloch
Author: Hija Kamran
Nearly three months ago, people woke up to the news of Qandeel Baloch's murder by her brother in what was said to be an honour killing. The case caught the attention of the media and sparked debates around honour killings, privacy and women in the public eye. Recently, however, after the reports on her parents’ plight for help, it became apparent that the media attention had not translated into support for those left behind in wake of her murder.
Digital Rights Foundation (DRF), after a crowd funding campaign, went to Multan to meet Qandeel’s parents (who were accompanied by their lawyer), only to find out that her 80 year old father Azeem Khan and mother Anwar Bibi were struggling to live in their house due to non-payment of rent – the same house where Qandeel, their sole support, was murdered. They left Multan soon after their daughter’s tragic death and were living in their village, Shah Sadar Din in Dera Ghazi Khan. The rent of the house and utility bills, however, were immediately paid with the help of the funding DRF raised in only three days with the help of Women’s Action Forum, The Feminist Collective and individual donors.
Qandeel was brutally strangled to death because she chose to lead her life differently. She had always been the victim of lack of journalistic ethics, when media personalities called her on TV for extra TRPs, and when her real identity, including her CNIC and Passport, was revealed to the world. She feared for her safety and sought police protection, which was denied to her.
Her lawyer, Safdar Shah told us about his conversation with Qandeel right before her death, where she raised concerns about her safety after her photos with Mufti Abdul Qavi had emerged. The conversation was later leaked to the media. The media even converged on her village, interviewing locals and disrespecting Qandeel’s wishes not to have her identity made public. This naturally raises the question of where does one draw a line between public curiosity and the right to an individual’s privacy. In a world where anyone can be tracked just by the pattern of their activities on social media, cashing in at the expense of somebody’s privacy meant, in this case, to put them at the mercy of murderers and so-called “flag bearers” of honour. In terms of the stakes that privacy holds, Qandeel’s story is not unique.
However, just three months down the road most of us have already moved on. But her parents are still in the same state of shock and misery after their own son killed their beloved daughter and the sole breadwinner of the household. As her father, Azeem Khan shared his ordeal with DRF, one could tell by his expressions, the persecution they’ve received from the people who were once dear to them. Azeem, who lost his leg in an accident six months ago, burst into tears as he recalled how Qandeel had planned to get him a prosthetic leg and in fact had plans to take him to the doctor the morning she was found murdered.
Watch as Qandeel's parents talk about the many aspects of Qandeel's life:
A woman who selflessly supported her family, who didn’t care about what others think of her; a woman who stood for her rights to expression and advocated for the rights of women, was often misunderstood to be an attention seeker. She was in fact a one woman army on a bigger mission of her own – to break the stereotypical image of women in a conservative society. Had she not done it, her poverty-stricken family would otherwise be living a miserable life. This very woman was killed by the man who she called her brother, who she’d been feeding and putting a roof over since she had started earning. And the feeble justification of this brutal murder was honour.
Last week, however, the parliament approved anti-honour killing bill which was in fact catalysed after Qandeel’s murder. In a country where legal proceedings are generally slow, where some murders are even celebrated; associate ‘honour’ or ‘religion’ as the motive and you have a criminal glorified as a hero. And once the people are done celebrating a murderer, they start threatening the complainant and the heir of the victim to drop charges in exchange of blood money. However, in Qandeel’s case, after the state became a party in the FIR; if the parents were to withdraw the case, the state would step in and Section 311 of the Pakistan Penal Code (Ta'zir after waiver or compounding of right of qisas in qatl-i-amd) becomes active where the court retains the discretion to punish the defendant under ta’zir (secular punishment) for 10-14 years.
Nonetheless, under the new act of anti-honour killing, even though the life sentence of twelve and a half years is compulsory, the killer can be pardoned by the relatives of the victim. In such cases, there’s only so much laws can do. The strongly established ideologies of the people and the personal beliefs towards the principles they consider larger than life – say, honour and religion – usually affect the efficient applicability of the laws of the land. But all that can be done for now is to make sure that there’s no more violence against women, and that there’s no other Azeem Khan mourning the brutal death of another Qandeel Baloch.
In her own words,
"If you have a strong will power, definitely, nothing can let you go down."