A new voice in the world of non-fiction, Sanam Maher, tackles themes of honor, violence and fame.
She rose to fame through her videos posted on various social media, often termed as vile, vulgar, and unislamic by those who kept a vigil at the online activities of anyone who didn’t conform. Qandeel Baloch soon started garnering a lot of attention, both nationally and internationally, and she was hated as much as admired for her courage to defy norms, and do what she pleased. Having been on the receiving end of exhaustive threats, and abuses, Qandeel feared for her life. She felt scared. She knew she didn’t have any support, and that her life would end. But no one knew it would be so soon.
In July 2016, Qandeel Baloch, Pakistan’s celebrity by social media was found dead in her house. Her brother, Mohammed Waseem, shamed by her ‘online presence’, and the attention she was getting, strangled her in their family home. He feels no remorse, no sorrow. He believes he has restored his family’s reputation and image. He smiles at the cameras while being interviewed, often openly bragging about his murder scheme, not letting anyone take credit for his master-plan. On being asked if he was ashamed, he remarks,’ No. I have no shame. I am Baloch.’ Qandeel’s parents, shocked and horrified, accused their sons of conspiring to murder their daughter and lodged an FIR.
The entire nation of Pakistan was suddenly turned upside down. Qandeel’s death sent shock waves across the country, and there was huge uproar against the bleak legislation that allowed the accused to roam freely after confessing to the murders, and their crime being waived off or forgiven by relatives of the suspect, mostly by accepting blood money as compensation. 6 days after Qandeel’s death the Anti-Honor Killing Bill was drafted and it was adopted unanimously by the Parliament within 3 months. The Criminal Law Amendment Act 2016 ensured life imprisonment as mandatory, unless a judge decided otherwise.
Sanam Maher’s bold account of life in a country which is deeply conservative of its beliefs, and values, and where a woman is not deemed worthy of living a life at her own accord is moving and powerful. Women have long been ostracized, pulled down, and threatened whenever they refuse to conform to a pre-existing patriarchal notion. Through a series of extensive research and interviews with aspiring models, activists, lawyers, police officers, journalists— Maher, has given a detailed narrative of Qandeel’s life. The author’s words flow seamlessly, and her ability to weave facts into a story has been brilliantly displayed. Sanam’s efforts are commendable, her investigative journalism coupled with her ability as a writer make this debut novel unforgettable. The author’s work has appeared in Al Jazeera, BuzzFeed, The New York Times, to name a few. Her honest attempt at exposing the hypocrisy and deep-rooted patriarchy, have opened gates for reflection, and debate, of a society whose morals are laced with blind-faith and dogmas, and hate for those who dare to defy.
The Sensational Life & Death of Qandeel Baloch is book that must be read.
Author: Sanam Maher
Publisher: Aleph Book Company
Bold’, ‘Shameless’, ‘Siren’ were just some of the (kinder) words used to describe Qandeel Baloch. She embraced these labels and played the coquette, yet dished out biting critiques of some of Pakistan’s most holy cows. Pakistanis snickered at her fake American accent, but marvelled at her gumption. She was the stuff of a hundred memes and Pakistan’s first celebrity-by-social media.
Qandeel first captured the nation’s attention on Pakistan Idol with a failed audition and tearful outburst. But it was in February 2016, when she uploaded a Facebook video mocking a presidential ‘warning’ not to celebrate Valentine’s Day, that she went ‘viral’. In the video, which racked up nearly a million views, she lies in bed, in a low-cut red dress, and says in broken English, ‘They can stop to people go out…but they can’t stop to people love.’ The video shows us everything that Pakistanis loved—and loved to hate—about Qandeel, ‘Pakistan’s Kim Kardashian’. Five months later, she would be dead. In July 2016, Qandeel’s brother would strangle her in their family home, in what was described as an ‘honour killing’—a punishment for the ‘shame’ her online behaviour had brought to the family.
Scores of young women and men are killed in the name of honour every year in Pakistan. Many cases are never reported, and of the ones that are, murderers are often ‘forgiven’ by the surviving family members and do not face charges. However, just six days after Qandeel’s death, the Anti-Honour Killings Laws Bill was fast-tracked in parliament, and in October 2016, the loophole allowing families to pardon perpetrators of ‘honour killings’ was closed. What spurred the change? Was it the murder of Qandeel Baloch? And how did she come to represent the clash between rigid conservatism and a secular, liberal vision for Pakistan? Through dozens of interviews—with aspiring models, managers, university students, activists, lawyers, police officers and journalists, among them—Sanam Maher gives us a portrait of a woman and a nation.