Book Review: The Sensational Life And Death Of Qandeel Baloch by Sanam Maher

Book Name: The Sensational Life And Death Of Qandeel Baloch

Author: Sanam Maher

Publisher: Aleph

Rating: 4.7/5

Book Blurb: ‘Qandeel was a marvelous blaze. She set our dark world on fire and made enough light to expose the hypocrisies of Pakistan’s pious patriarchy. In Sanam Maher’s terrific and necessary book, those flames burn brighter than ever.’ —Bilal Tanweer ‘A powerful and deeply moving account from an important new voice in non-fiction.’ —Sonia Faleiro 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 marveled 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 behavior 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.

Review: There has been a wealth of literature and news items focussed on Qandeel Baloch (her stage name and not her real name) but most of them are full of incorrect information or hearsay rather than first-hand research. Sanam Maher has done a considerable amount of research to bring this book to life.

Qandeel Baloch has been one of the most well known social media celebrities from Pakistan. He brief stint with publishing videos of herself ended when she was murdered by her own brother. It is surprising to learn that she supported her family monetarily, even her brother whom she bought expensive gifts.

Sanam writes about Qandeel’s and other social media celebrities of Pakistan. Given Qandeel’s modest background, it is surprising that a girl of her humble roots could taste such success. A controversy queen, nevertheless she had the right to live life on her own terms. 

“If her brothers had not killed her, and if the people in her extended family had not killed her, then it would have been any other man from Shah Sadar Din…”

The hypocrisy of the Maulvi who chides Qandeel’s in public but still wants to meet her in a hotel room all alone is well documented. Sanam also in between writes about others such as Arshad, the chaiwallah who finds the sudden attention a bit alarming. Perhaps, this is the downside of social media- while it can catapult anybody into the limelight, the fame is often short-lived and momentary. So it was with Qandeel. Her fifteen minutes of fame dies out with each video, so the videos went a bit too risque and too controversial eventually bringing her a lot of fame but also a lot of criticism.

However, her sensational death brought honor killings into the forefront and people took her side which is equally surprising in a conservative nation like Pakistan.

The downside of the book is that it gets a bit repetitive in between with accounts of newspaper reportage that deal with the same aspect that’s been discussed before.

This is a very sad story, told with a lot of honesty and perhaps the most comprehensive and well-compiled book on Qandeel Baloch. It gives a rare peek into the conservative Pakistani society where women are still treated as a man’s property and must conform to social norms or face death. It was Qandeel who challenged these norms and she did deserve a life where she could be free and not be judged constantly.

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