Some time back, when Pakistanis protested against videos uploaded by Qandeel Baloch on her Facebook page, the model retorted: Aaj se no video, get lost tharki awam (pervert people).
Baloch's death, inflicted by her own brother in the name of gairath (honour) and the reaction to it, has proved that her detractors were not just hypocritical perverts, but also insensitive, shameless cowards with a raging bloodlust.
Baloch was strangled to death on Saturday allegedly by her brother in Multan. Reports suggest the brother could not stand his 'begairath' sister and was driven by rage to kill her.
But the brother, who is now on the run, was just the medium. The spunky, brave girl became the victim of a patriarchal, insecure society that did not have any answer to her zest for life, its freedoms and the hypocrisies she exposed, with her bold statements and photos.
Earlier this month, her video 'Ban — Don't Do It Again' went viral, getting hits in excess of a million. To everybody's amusement, the very 'tharkis' who made her video a raging hit threw a fit saying it was demeaning for Pakistanis to see a woman swaying suggestively in a song released on Eid.
This was the same set of people who had earlier objected to her Facebook videos, where she attracted a huge number of followers, and sought a ban on the pretext of saving people from her evil influence.
But Baloch continued to mock her critics.
When asked about the brouhaha over the video, she regretted only her inability to "twerk properly" and the fact that the pink dress she wore in the video with a 21-year-old singer was a bit cheap.
Later, in a podcast she argued that her videos were an attempt to change the mindset of people: "At least international media can see what I am up to. 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. 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."
Like all rebels without a pause, Baloch, whose original name was Fouzia Azeem, appeared to be a product of circumstances. Born into an orthodox society that allows little freedom to women, she seemed to have been repressed and oppressed at a very early age, turning her into a reluctant rebel who cried out for attention and azaadi from a stifling environment.
Just days before her death, it was revealed Baloch had been married and had a son with a person she described as "uneducated and cruel". She claimed to have been forced into the marriage and then denied basic freedoms, which led to a divorce and her gradual metamorphosis.
"I’ve fought with everyone. And now I have become so headstrong that I only do what I want. I started working in showbiz, I faced so many difficulties, you know what happens with girls here. You know what kinds of offers they make girls here. You know how they try to misuse girls who are new to the industry. You could say that this is my revenge [from this country]. I don’t do these things happily," she told the Dawn in an interview on Wednesday.
And she brought down many from their pedestals. One of her famous victims was the cleric Mufti Abdul Qavi, member of Pakistan's Ruet-i-Hilal Committee, a religious body that, among other things, is responsible for sighting the new moon to determine important dates for the Islamic lunar calendar.
In June, Baloch posted several selfies with the cleric in a hotel room in an apparent bid to bust the myth that she was a persona non grata in the haloed halls of Pakistan, a veritable untouchable for custodians of Pakistani culture and its religious leaders. On being 'outed' by Baloch, the cleric was suspended from the committee.
The savage reaction to her death says a lot about our times. Unable to take her on in the battle of ideas, struggle for personal freedom, not being able to accept that individuals are not born to serve the collective hypocrisies, perversions and dogmas of society, a section of Twitterati has broken into a celebration over her death. What a loose woman...She deserved it...many gloated after news of her murder broke.
But, little do they know that in her life and death, Baloch held up a mirror to all patriarchal, orthodox, misogynist societies that wish to tame women. That Baloch refused to give up her quest for azaadi in spite of threats, indignant outrage and incessant trolling and paid for it with her life proves that her detractors failed miserably in keeping her under their thumb. She remained defiant till the end.
In death, she left behind a message that people who watched her by night and threatened her by day shouldn't forget: Get lost tharki awam.
PS: In the 80s, Pakistani dictator Zia ul Haq jailed Faiz Ahmed Faiz, banned his poetry and disallowed wearing of saris in Islamic Pakistan. In defiance, singer Iqbal Bano appeared at a Lahore concert resplendent in a black saree and started singing Faiz's immortal nazm, 'Hum Dekhenge'. As her voice and the accompanying beats of tabla hit a crescendo, rendering lines like "hum dekhenge... jab ahl-e-hakam ke sar upar jab bijlii kar-kar karkegi" (when lightning will strike oppressive dictators), the audience started chanting 'Inquilab Zindabad'. (Incidentally, Zia died in an air crash a few years later and only his dentures could be found.)
Somewhere from up above, the late Bano, the brave singer who gave expression to the collective Pakistani yearning for freedom from oppression, would be wondering about the decadence in Pakistan that brought about the murder of a woman fighting for the azaadi to live life her own way.