Do We Not Bleed? Reflections of a 21st-Century Pakistani  by columnist and former op-ed editor of Daily Times, Mehr Tarar, is a book about contemporary Pakistan. The book profiles contemporary Pakistani men and women from all walks of life. One such profile is of Qandeel Baloch, the self-proclaimed selfie queen. Qandeel was killed by her own brother, for daring to flaunt her sexuality and contempt for the hypocrisy that permeated the society she was part of. An Excerpt: 

When she married at the age of seventeen, Qandeel Baloch was known as Fauzia Azeem, a name given by her family. She belonged to a poor family, and no one thought it important to seek her permission when they married her off to a man much older than her, and who she had nothing in common with. In a year and a half, beaten (in her words, the husband denies the accusation) and made to feel as if she didn’t belong anywhere, her marriage came to an ugly end. She had a son, no money, no education, nowhere to go and no one to run to. Before she was divorced, she told her husband she wanted to study and do something for herself. She always wanted to be known for who she was, even if at that point in time she was utterly clueless as to what that was.

Who was Fauzia and what did she want? The struggle continued because she refused to bow to the deity that was her husband—in his own imagined realm of male superiority and male entitlement. Fauzia did not bend. Fauzia ran away.

Fauzia followed her own path, with no money and no one to support her ‘rebellious’ act. Although getting out of a marriage and seeking a divorce is sanctioned under legal and religious codes, social stigma curls around the individual. Especially if you are from an unknown village in the south of Punjab, a place that takes pride in its patriarchal moorings, feudal lords, veiled women, regressive progress and glorified misogyny.

Taking refuge in Dar-ul-Aman, a government social welfare department-run shelter for female victims of violence, the young Fauzia had no plans, no money, nowhere to go and a very young child to look after. Out of her depth, when the child fell very ill, she returned him to his father. She was told by people around her that her child may die, and her husband would come after her if that were to happen.

Out of her depth, when the child fell very ill, she returned him to his father. She was told by people around her that her child may die, and her husband would come after her if that were to happen.

The next few years were a blur of jobs, one of which was of that of a Daewoo Express hostess. As days blurred into months, and months into years, Fauzia moved from job to job, grooming herself into what she would become: Qandeel Baloch. The details about her journey are sketchy: (in her own words) she did her matriculation, bachelors, did many jobs and finally landed in the world of showbiz.

A photo shoot here, a fashion show there, small-time assignments, fumbling, standing up, striding, the big, bad male-dominated world did not break Qandeel down in her solo journey to self-discovery. She was looked at as a vulnerable female whose only weapon was her face and body. Determined not to let that objectification become her weakness, she learned the age-old art of wearing it like a badge. In an interview to journalist Hufsa Chaudhry of Dawn, Qandeel said, ‘The same way, I have struggled through difficulties to make a place for myself in showbiz. It was very difficult. What kind of problems I have faced, I don’t think anyone can understand.’

Qandeel’s first noticeable entry into showbiz was her mess of a failed attempt to enter season one of Pakistan Idol in 2013. Qandeel, a big fan of Lata Mangeshkar, Shreya Ghoshal and Nayyara Noor, announced to the world that singing was her passion. If only it was. Dressed in pink leggings and a flowing green top, hair straight, pinned off her face, and heavily made up, as Qandeel sang a Punjabi song, the facial expressions of the judges—famous Pakistani singers Hadiqa Kiani, Ali Azmat and veteran showbiz icon, Bushra Ansari—reflected the absence of talent in the singer. However, like a petulant child, Qandeel refused to accept her ‘premature’ exit, bawling loudly, and exclaiming how she had told her parents she was going to make it to Pakistan Idol. The views of that five-minute video on YouTube was 43,83,383 when I last checked the dramatic dismissal.

Qandeel, however, did not let that episode affect her. She continued her journey. Destination unknown.

She was now living life on her own terms. Raunchy, blatant, sexy and very, very unapologetic. Her last video, ‘Ban’, shot during the month of Ramadan, showed her in tiny hints of dresses, stockings with runs down the length; the twerking of her taut butt was so bad it made Miley Cyrus’s moves look as elegant as Fred Astaire’s ballroom dancing.

More than 500,000 followers on Facebook, one of the top ten googled names in Pakistan, Qandeel before her death summed herself up: ‘I’m a [sic] girl power.’ Her confidence, her willingness to make mistakes, her ability to adapt, her acceptance of her flaws, her plans to take it all up a notch, all these were an integral part of her. She was now living life on her own terms. Raunchy, blatant, sexy and very, very unapologetic. Her last video, ‘Ban’, shot during the month of Ramadan, showed her in tiny hints of dresses, stockings with runs down the length; the twerking of her taut butt was so bad it made Miley Cyrus’s moves look as elegant as Fred Astaire’s ballroom dancing. But as the 38,33,224 views on YouTube show, Qandeel was watched. Reviled, mocked, tsk-tsked at, lusted after, sighed at in forbidden desire, Qandeel in ‘Ban’ twerked and thumako-ed her way into more lurid headlines and Facebook likes that most other self-made celebrities, mostly limited to social media, could only dream of. As she rated her video 10/10, she outlined her plan to make a better video soon, her own work. She was killed before that could happen.

Extracted from Do We Not Bleed by Mehr Tarar, with permission from Aleph Book Company. Pages-240, Price-Rs 599

Mehr Tarar, a freelance columnist, is the former op-ed editor of Daily Times, a leading English daily. Tarar has one son, Musa, eighteen, whom she considers her inspiration for everything she does. She lives in Lahore. This is her first book.

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