LAHORE: The news of my upcoming TV serial ‘Baaghi’ has got everyone talking. Since we unveiled this project a couple of months back, my timeline, inbox, and personal messages have all been about one thing, and one thing alone: why did I write Qandeel Baloch’s story?
Quite frankly, I’ve been stumped by this question. While writing, I never thought why I’m writing it, that answer has always been a given: hers is a story that screams to be told. A small town, barely-educated girl with ‘grand’ dreams of supporting her family dared take a step outside her house. Dared. Now she’s a cautionary tale.
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My serial is about that transformation. The conversion of a poor, uneducated girl Fauzia Azeem into seduction artist, Qandeel Baloch. It is about the men who slammed all doors of dignified living to her. Men, who forced her to exist on her charms alone. Men, who feverishly slammed her after having finished watching her latest video on Instagram. It is about the women who called her even worse names, and never stopped to think what if circumstances placed them in her position.
There is one thing that all of us have to agree on. Qandeel Baloch was not born Qandeel Baloch; she was made Qandeel Baloch. And whoever took part in her making, my story is about them.
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And this is not the first conversion this society has produced. Countless women have been forced/manipulated into different forms of sexual abuse by this society. Hers is not the first story. And I guarantee you; it won’t be the last either. Because ever since we announced Baaghi, everyone involved in the project has been a target of hate and backlash. As a society, we are extremely comfortable in producing Qandeel Balochs, but very uncomfortable if someone starts chronicling their journey, starts ‘talking’ about a person behind personas.
And it has to stop, really. This hypocrisy has become redundant and exhausting, not to mention extremely dangerous. We’ve shoved a lot of dirt under the carpet all these decades and the irregular bulges are now making it way too overt. If you think Qandeel Baloch was a one-time thing, you are deluded. As I write these words, countless women all over the country are being manipulated for personal gains. Do you want it to be your daughter next? Or your own self?
I have never in my life heard of any woman who wanted to be a sexual object and harassed for it in return. Never. All the women you see out in the street, from different walks of life, are out there, to earn for their families, for themselves, just there to make a living. And how they do it has less to do with what kind of persons they are – rather, it’s about what kind of circumstances they are facing.
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Fauzia Azeem was not a highly educated girl. She was not surrounded by supportive, positive people who wanted her to excel. She was poor, with very little exposure and a headstrong girl who wanted to be a ‘son’ for her parents, so they didn’t have to beg in their old age. She didn’t have a lot to go on with. Not many options. She tried to be so much more before she was forced to settle with becoming ‘Qandeel Baloch’.
I like to wonder what she could have become if she was given a chance. She was a head-strong person. Stubborn. Resilient. Had a thirst to prove herself. Be somebody.
Guess, I’ll never know. See, the thing is, when strong women are surrounded by supportive people, given education, they can do wonders. Look at Maryam Mukhtiar and Shehnaz Laghari; educated women with supportive people around them. Theirs are lives that become drafts for inspiring, beautiful stories for other women to follow. And if we can write about them, and make you tear up and scream patriotic slogans at your screen, we can also pick up our pen, and narrate a not-so-pretty story about a girl who wanted to do so much, but was never given a chance. She deserves to be heard.
Because how else are we going to learn to recognise another Qandeel Baloch in the making and stop it? As responsible citizens, we need to learn from her tale, accept her as a part of our fabric and not try to jostle her away from our collective conscience because who knows… next time it could be someone closer to you, or you.
During my research for this story I came across one of her interviews. She asked the anchor “What would you have done if it was your daughter in my place?” The anchor gave a very reasonable reply, “I would have guided her, told her that what you are trying to do is wrong but that ultimately you are responsible for your own destiny, so choose wisely.” Reasonable reply, right? He just missed one thing: there was nobody in her life to tell her this, to show her a way out. For people in her life, it just worked better for them if she were to remain Qandeel Baloch.
People who cite Maryam Mukhtiar and Shahnaz Laghari as prime examples of how our women should be, forget one thing: society didn’t make Maryam Mukhtiar. She already was a success story before she embraced martyrdom. For girls with no strong background and zero skills, like Fauzia Azeem, the society comes at them with bare fangs and sharp claws.
A person’s character is developed by their family, peers and circumstances. If you don’t have a strong foundation in your formative years and was not given any education, your chances of dignified survival in this world are really low, and they plummet even more when you are a girl.
Baaghi has not been written with an intention to reanimate Qandeel Baloch. It has been written to tell young girls not to give up. No matter how difficult the circumstances, do not give up your education. Yes, it is tough, and yes it may get even more difficult before it becomes easy, but one day it will. And that will be worth the entire struggle. Do not be what everyone else says you should be. Don’t go for what’s easy and available, create your own destiny, and if you do it against all odds, the joy will be unlike anything you have imagined.
Because remember, if you listened to all these men trying to bring you down, and telling you how you cannot accomplish anything else in life, remember what they did to Fauzia Azeem when she gave up. Remember Qandeel Baloch.
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