Illustration by Abro
Illustration by Abro

There has been a strong reaction in Pakistani English newspapers over Qandeel Baloch’s shocking murder on July 15 so much so that every columnist worth his salt has felt obligated to comment. Despite the deluge of commentary, multiple angles were covered in the opinion pieces ranging from the obvious — patriarchy and women’s sexuality — to the unobvious such as the failure of the women’s movement to check male privilege.

This made me curious about Urdu newspaper columnists and their reaction on her murder. Well-known TV drama writer Munno Bhai, who pens a weekly column in daily Jang, welcomed the federal government’s efforts in passing the anti-honour crime legislation and felt that it was long time coming. “Bauhat achchi baat hai. Is nauyat ke qatl ki vaardaatoun ki sarkobi ya tadaruk ke liye sakht qanoon aur ussay bhi zyada sakht pabandi aur amal daramad ki zaroorat hai.” (This is good news. Murders of such instances need to be eradicated under strict laws but what is more crucial is their implementation.) He further went on to suggest increasing employment opportunities for young educated women as a remedy to decrease such crimes.

Masood Ashar, a well-respected name in literary and journalistic circles, argued in his column “Qandeel Baloch ka qatl aur bahut se sawal” for another possibility other than honour killing behind her murder. She supported her family and perhaps she had a falling out over money with her siblings that led to her murder, he wrote. He, however, immediately added that the law related to honour must be amended. “Ghairat ke naam par qatl ka sawal hai toh us kay liye bhi qanoon mein tarmeem ki zaroorat hai.”

Both Orya Maqbool Jan and Ansar Abbasi felt that Baloch’s’s blood was on the electronic media’s hands. In his opinion piece for Roznama Express “Shayad hum bhi aise hee ho jayenge”, Jan in his characteristic blistering manner said that TV channels exploited Baloch’s to increase their ratings and when they had extracted maximum mileage while she was alive they waited for her death. (“Media ko us ki maut ka intezar tha.”) And when she died, then too, the electronic media did not hesitate to exploit the circumstances of her death for ratings, he fumed.


Urdu op-ed writers in newspapers blame the media for Qandeel Baloch’s murder


Jan, as we have seen him on several talk shows on television, loves taking a swipe at NGOs and who accuses them of being agents of the West, did the same in this column. He questions their silence while Baloch’s was alive and kicking: “Where were these NGOs when she was being paraded on several TV channels and where she was subjected to indecent remarks? Why did they not speak up then?”

“Humara media bhi kya khoob hai. Sab kuch karke bari ayyari se apne kiye ko bhula kar sare ke sara ilzam doosroun par daal deyta hai,” Abbasi sarcastically commented in his op-ed “Qandeel Baloch ka qatl aur media ka kirdar”. In other words, the media is behind her death and nobody else.

Abbasi and Jan’s opinions feed into the public narrative that TV channels should not have given her space.

According to Abbasi, Baloch’s family was fully aware of her lifestyle choices and had no issues with it. However, it was when the Mufti Abdul Qavi scandal played out heavily on TV that friends and family taunted Baloch’s family. When her real identity was exposed by the media, it culminated in her death.

“It was but natural that her family would have been subjected to ridicule when this scandal was played out in the media. And this was the cause of her murder which is being presented to the public as ‘honour killing’,” he wrote. “Yeh qatl jise ab ghairat ke naam par qatl ke taur par awaam ke samne pesh kiya ja raha hai.”

He said he came across only one such piece in an English daily titled Sharing the blame: Revealing Qandeel’s real identity put her life at risk, otherwise the print media has been silent over its detrimental role in the entire episode. “Media aur bil khosoos TV channels ne kabhi yeh ehsaas kiya hai ke is tarah ki ghair zimmedarana sahafat ke nataij kisi ki bhi zindagi ke liye kitne sangeen ho saktay hain?”

Other columnists explored socioeconomic reasons and patriarchal and tribal structure of Pakistani society that make such murders possible.

Have gone through a week’s columns of three Urdu dailies I was struck by a couple of things. I was most surprised to not come across any op-ed by female writers especially feminist ones such as Kishwar Naheed and Zahida Hina who have regular columns in Jang and Roznama Express respectively. They pontificated on Abdul Sattar Edhi but did not broach the subject of Qandeel Baloch in their op-eds.

“Qandeel Baloch’s murder was not an honour crime. Her brother killed her over money. That is why I did not write a column. However, a couple of weeks earlier I wrote a column on honour crimes when a girl was burnt alive in Murree,” replies Kishwar Naheed when I spoke to her over the phone. “Also, Qandeel was exploited by media for ratings,” she adds, echoing the sentiments of Jan and Abbasi.

Furthermore, of the eight columns that I read no one discussed Baloch and her challenge to the accepted norms of sexuality or the phenomenon of celebrity culture on social media. Nevertheless, it was an interesting exercise to peruse these columns and come across such opinions, albeit limited in their scope, in the Urdu press.

The writer is a staff member of Dawn newspaper.

Twitter: @siddiquimaleeha

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, July 31st, 2016

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