Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Book Review: The Sensational Life and Death of Qandeel Baloch by Sanam Maher.

Book: The Sensational Life and Death of Qandeel Baloch

Author: Sanam Maher

Publisher: Aleph Book Co

Pages: 272

Read On: Hardback

How Long it Took Me To Read: 2 days

Plot Summary: 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.

  General Thoughts: I have wanted to read this book since it first came out and when I spotted it at Kitab Khana I just grabbed it and I couldn't wait to get to it come August. I started reading this late one night and I literally had to force myself to put it down and go to sleep. This doesn't happen often with non-fiction books for me. The last time a non-fiction book had me so hooked was Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls.

Review: I am not quite sure when I first heard of Qandeel Baloch. But if I had to guess it was probably when she promised to strip if Pakistan beat Indian during the T20 World Cup. Like everyone else I rolled my eyes and thought, "Great another one of these samples have popped up. And that too across the border." We, of course have the infamous Poonam Pandey pretty much promising similar feats to celebrate our cricketing triumphs. The world surely doesn't need more these! I also did wonder though how the conservative culture in Pakistan would handle a girl who was so bold and spoke of such things? Would she be safe? Or would she be treated as a joke and forgotten. I sure forgot all about her. Till News of her death broke a few years down the line. Murdered by her own brother for bringing 'shame' to the family.

Just another day and just another honour killing on the sub-continent.

A 26 year old girl who provided for her parents was killed by her self-righteous younger brother in an attempt to save face and safeguard the honour of their family.

What honour?

Can there possibly be any honour in killing your own flesh and blood?!

I find honour killings beyond scary. I can't imagine what goes on in the minds of both the perpetrators of these crimes as well as the victims. I don't even want to imagine what goes on in minds of the victims in their last moments. To see their fathers, brothers, uncles and sometimes even mothers turn killers. All in  the name of family honour.

This book does a fantastic job of taking inside this very mindset. A horrible cultural legacy we seem to uphold time and again. The author does a great job showing us the many ways in which Qandeel shook up Pakistani society. Ways in which she made her ways into the headlines and dinner table conversations. Everyone seemed to have a opinion on her and her activities. I also loved that we got to see how smart she was, how clever she was about the content she posted online, based on trends and trending topics. She wasn't quite the bimbo people accused her of being. I also liked to see her friendships and relationships and the girl behind the facade. A person with dreams and aspirations and ambitions.

We also see the events leading up to her murder and how no one seemed to take her seriously when she mentioned time and again how she was in danger from her brothers. It takes you into the heart and hearth of this family unit. We also see the aftermath of her death. The media frenzy. The international headlines and interest in this human interest story. We also see her parents grappling with this unenviable position they find themselves in, a dead daughter and a murderer for a son. I honestly don't know how anyone deals with this situation. It is sad to see the remains of her life, stuffed in suitcases and her poor parents dealing with what is left behind.

The book also shows us the often perilous lives young girls and women live in Pakistan especially online and how technology, especially phones and social media instead of making their lives easy makes it a minefield of being blackmailed and threatened and coerced into sexual activity. And how the very honour they are meant to uphold and protect at all times is crushed and abused and used to abuse them.

This was overall and interesting, powerful and very needed conversation we need to have. Just today I saw someone share a man's profile on social media who makes it his life's mission to harass women online. He blackmails them using pictures they upload on Instagram, showing them living their lives and minding their own business, occasionally pictures of them drinking and smoking and wearing 'revealing' clothes and these pictures are then sent to their families! WHAT is WRONG with people?! Why does a woman living her life on her own terms scare some people to this extent?! What did Qandeel do that was so wrong? She was a little out there, bold and sexy and risqué. Sure. And you know what, you would call her all sorts of names. Judge her and hate her. But really, was there any need to kill her? Why couldn't she just exist in the same world as those who hated her?

I really enjoyed this book. And it was so much more than just the story of Qandeel Baloch. I highly recommend.

Rating: 3.5/5

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