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Qandeel Baloch And The Displaced Notion Of Honour


For the longest time, cinema in the subcontinent referred to daughters as, “betiyan toh ghar ki izzat hoti hain.” The mindset being that women must always think first of the family honour because they always have to be accountable to the world and its honour keepers for what they say, think or do. A few years ago, I interviewed activist Kamla Bhasin who pointed out the way women’s bodies, their minds are tied up to notions of honour. She had said, “Women are the last remaining colony.  So our minds are captured, our bodies too. The beauty business enslaves us. We do housework worth trillions of dollars for free. Our sexuality is captured next and our reproductive power. When men wear Western clothes, it is normal. When we wear trousers, suddenly it is against our culture. We are told, ‘You are the keepers of our honour.’ Why put your honour in our vaginas?”


The keyword here is ‘honour.’  Somehow, honour is always a displaced notion as if women cannot be honoured just because they are human-beings and exist. They are vessels and repositories of honour that is not theirs. This notion of honour has not been created by them. But somehow their bodies, their sexuality, their minds, their thoughts must serve it. It is almost as if they belong to everyone but themselves.


They belong to the eve teaser who appropriates their body, what they are wearing. To the man who feels vengeful when turned down.To fathers, brothers, husbands. To minders, keepers, protectors, abusers. Women really are territories to be guarded or to be violated at will. They really are colonised beings because the moment they begin to assert their volition, their dissent, their Nos, their Yeses, when they stop wanting to be appropriated, when they start marrying outside their gotras. When they begin to challenge the dress codes, the moral curfews, the invisible lakshman rekhas, the unwritten fatwas about propriety, decorum and decency, they become dangerous.
They begin to disturb the distribution of power by claiming some of it for themselves, to live and think and exist without seeking approval or permission. And that somehow begins to threaten the balance of the world. A “characterless” (another uniquely subcontinental term to describe certain kind of women) woman is a loose cannon and must be shoved back into her corner. She must be shown her place. That woman may be a Qandeel Baloch. Or S Swathi. Or Jisha.  Or Taslima Nasreen. Or Kavita Krishnan. Princess Diana, an inconvenient Royal said it best in her Martin Bashir interview, ” I am seen as a threat. I think every strong woman in history has had to walk down a similar path, and I think it’s the strength that causes the confusion and the fear. Why is she strong? Where does she get it from? Where is she taking it? Where is she going to use it?”
And God forbid that any woman uses her power to dismantle the patriarchal structures looming above her, or to question those who want silence and compliance. Qandeel Baloch was no activist like Sabeen Mehmood who was shot dead in April last year in Karachi. She was not an advocate of any particular cause. She was just a fearless, joyful, provocative girl in a milieu where women can be disfigured and killed if they assert their right to their sexuality. She knew she was playing with fire. In her last Facebook post, she had posted a BBC podcast based on her with this statement, “Atleast international media can see what i am upto. How i am trying to change the typical orthodox mindset of people who don’t wanna come out of their shells of false beliefs and old practices. Here this one is for those people only. Thank you my believers and supporters for understanding the message i try to convey through my bold posts and videos. It’s time to bring a change because the world is changing. let’s open our minds and live in present.”
It was a battle that she lost and the sight of her body being carried away amid a blaze of cameras, brought home the fact that both in life and death, despite her attempts to change perceptions, all she was reduced to was a shocking headline. She overstepped the brief of what women can say and how they can behave and she paid with her life for it. On her page, even after her death, many visitors condoled her death but not without saying, “May God forgive her sins.” The judgment and name calling will not stop any time soon even though she is gone.
With things coming to a head all over the world and dormant conflicts coming to the surface in all their ugliness, Qandeel Baloch’s murder is symptomatic of the times and our collective failure to accommodate women who speak their minds, inhabit their bodies unapologetically and won’t be swept under the carpet of silence. We cut women down to size in many ways. By asking a world champion just when she will settle down. By making up click baiting stories about wardrobe malfunctions. By googling “hot” pictures of women we troll online. By killing them in wombs. Burning them for dowry. Pawing them in buses. Cat calling. Abusing. Controlling their access to the world, to men of their choice, to freedom. And if nothing else works, murdering them. The notions of honour, lajja, izzat, shame continue to thrive. And women continue to die. Qandeel was not the first woman to be  dishonoured in life and in death. She won’t be the last.
Reema Moudgil is the editor and co-founder of Unboxed Writers, the author of Perfect Eight, the editor of  Chicken Soup for the Soul-Indian Women, a  translator who recently interpreted  Dominican poet Josefina Baez’s book Comrade Bliss Ain’t Playing in Hindi, an  RJ  and an artist who has exhibited her work in India and the US and is now retailing some of her art at http://paintcollar.com/reema. She won an award for her writing/book from the Public Relations Council of India in association with Bangalore University, has written for a host of national and international magazines since 1994 on cinema, theatre, music, art, architecture and more. She hopes to travel more and to grow more dimensions as a person. And to be restful, and alive in equal measure.

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