Tracing the Journey of Pakistan’s Social Media Star Qandeel Baloch

Book on Qandeel Baloch: Karachi-based journalist Sanam Maher unravels the journey of Pakistan’s internet sensation.

Updated08 Jun 2018, 08:20 AM IST
4 min read

Video Editor: Rahul Sanpui

She was a 26-year-old who had to pay a heavy price for being too “loud” on social media. They said it was Qandeel Baloch’s over-the-top behaviour that killed her.

Two years later, Karachi-based journalist Sanam Maher has written a book, titled ‘The Sensational Life and Death of Qandeel Baloch’ on the Pakistani model, who was born Fauzia Aseem. Maher’s book tells the story of a girl who went from being a host with a bus travel agency to Pakistan’s biggest internet sensation.

‘Qandeel Created a Persona for Herself’

Tracing the Journey of Pakistan’s Social Media Star Qandeel Baloch
(Photo: The Quint)

In a telephonic interview with The Quint, Maher says that Qandeel had managed to create a persona for herself online.

She was very smart when it came to understanding what is it that people want to see and hear. She took cues from Indian celebrities like Poonam Pandey, Rakhi Sawant and Sunny Leone. Every part of Qandeel’s life opens into a larger story about Pakistan.
Sanam Maher, Author and Journalist

It was not just theatrics that made Qandeel popular; the fact was that people loved her for being an outspoken woman who offered to strip for cricketer Shahid Afridi if he led the Pakistan team to a win in a crucial match.

We have to understand what kind of audience was there, because without them not much would have happened for her. She was clearly doing something that was getting our attention and we couldn’t stop looking at her.
Sanam Maher, Author and Journalist

Behind the rise of every Qandeel is an audience willing to lap up salacious content that is readily available online. But Qandeel was not just a random starlet trying hard to garner attention. Through her videos, she also made fun of diktats, such as the ban on Valentine’s Day and the online abuse she was subjected to on a daily basis.

All hell broke loose when she shot a few videos and photos with cleric Mufti Qavi, a member of the Ruet-e-Hilal Committee (or the moon sighting committee in Pakistan). Her selfie interview with the cleric did not go down well with the conservatives.

Honour Killing is Not a Muslim Problem

Was it religious fundamentalism that killed Qandeel? Maher suggests that deeply-entrenched patriarchy proved fatal for Qandeel, who was murdered by her brother in 2016.

According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), an independent and non-profit organisation, 309 cases of honour killing were reported in 2017, a figure which is "improbably low".

If you just look at the motivation behind honour killing, the idea is that a woman or man has behaved in a certain way, bringing disrepute to the family. So, when you ask if this is a religious or a socio-cultural phenomenon, I think, it’s more towards the latter.
Sanam Maher, Author and Journalist

In 2016, Pakistan passed an anti-honour killing bill, making it difficult for family members to grant pardon to the accused.

Tracing the Journey of Pakistan’s Social Media Star Qandeel Baloch
(Photo: The Quint)
I don’t think that a new legislation is going to fix this problem. Putting more people in jail is not necessarily the best answer to this. We should address this socially as it is people’s perception about women’s rights. Even the earlier law didn’t work as the families from the victim’s side would strike an understanding with the police and lawyers.
Sanam Maher, Author and Journalist

Social Media in Pakistan is Going Through a Churn

Maher’s book also delves into the intricacies of social media – which changed the life of Arshad, Pakistan’s famous blue-eyed chai wala, for the worse. A year after coming to the limelight in 2016, the tea-seller from Islamabad found himself in the midst of a controversy, with the government agency alleging that he was a citizen of Afghanistan who was residing illegally in Pakistan.

Facebook and Twitter, however, also lent a voice to certain causes that are often missing in the mainstream media.

Social media is definitely offering a platform to talk about certain things that you can’t talk about even in the media.
Sanam Maher, Author and Journalist

For instance, since January this year, activists have taken to Twitter to highlight few instances of human rights violation in the northern parts of Pakistan. This unique initiative, popularly known as the Pashtun Tahaffuz movement is being driven solely by the social media.

Drawing Inspiration from Qandeel

In what appears to be a tragic premonition, Qandeel also released a video, where she says that Pakistan will not see another Qandeel for another hundred years. Will her death see more women break the shackles of culture and tradition as they try to assert themselves?

Tracing the Journey of Pakistan’s Social Media Star Qandeel Baloch
(Photo: The Quint)
Definitely. There will be more women who look up to Qandeel, drawing inspiration from her, wanting to behave in ways that gives them an upper hand in running the society and their families.
Sanam Maher, Author and Journalist

"We have a long way to go,” says Maher as she points out glaring loopholes in the country’s cyber laws that make women more vulnerable to threats and lewd comments.

As Pakistan waits for its next internet sensation, one hopes that he or she doesn’t fall prey to the very popularity that claimed Qandeel.

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Published: 07 Jun 2018, 09:39 AM IST

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