Redeeming Qandeel’s pledge

IF India and Pakistan share one thing with gusto, it is their hidebound patriarchal societies. It has to be handed to the late Qandeel Baloch who may have scripted a trend to thwart the entrenched tradition not only at home but in faraway Hollywood no less. After all, her spirit should be smiling at the turn of events in the distant tinsel town. Unlike Gwyneth Paltrow or Angelina Jolie who are only now speaking up against a pervasive sexual sickness coursing through the male-run film and entertainment industry, Qandeel was mocking and challenging the heavy camouflage that predatory men wear to stalk and trap their victims.
The Harvey Weinstein episode has shown up what was known if only in hushed tones about the movie industry everywhere, not excluding our own in different locations across South Asia. In one of her popular exposés over the social media, Qandeel showed how the most sanctimonious of the sermonizers of sexual rectitude used religion to hide their seamier identity. And this is not just about a singled-out Muslim cleric who may be struggling to clear his name in the rigmarole of sexual sleaze. The syndrome is widespread and traverses many, perhaps all, religions.
There is this ‘baba’, for example, a spiritual guru in India, who had an entire federal cabinet bowing and kneeling in obeisance to him. Currently, the baba is in jail, like a few others of his ilk, charged with raping his unsuspecting disciples.
Rabbis, maulvis, and pontiffs across the world have abused their power over young male and female followers, giving their religion a stubborn challenge to overcome. Jimmy Swaggart was a television evangelist who confessed to his sexual crime way back in the 1970s. Rabbi Daniel Greer, 77, the founding rabbi of the Yeshiva of New Haven was ordered to pay a fine last week to his male victim of some years ago.
In the world of sexual predators, it’s a bit of a lottery, of course, as to who gets nabbed and who walks away with a clean pair of heels. Donald Trump was a hugely lucky man. He was rewarded with the world’s most coveted job despite overwhelming evidence of abusing women who needed his help. On the other hand, we have the Hollywood mogul Weinstein who ran out of luck he was riding merrily for years. The once powerful stalwart of the film industry is being made an example of for rape and other crimes alleged by a bevy of actresses, scriptwriters, and assistants. Much more are now, years after the event, stepping up to call him out for his alleged crimes.
The case has, in fact, become a precursor for more women to end the silence surrounding varying degrees of physical and mental abuse at the hands of friends, relatives or strangers. The ‘Me Too’ campaign on the internet has sought to lift the veil from the world of male predators who may lurk at home, in school or on college campuses, at work and nearly in every possible public space. While one wishes all the best to this global effort, we need to include a gentle reminder that young boys are and have been just as vulnerable to the heavily camouflaged predators.
I have a strong hunch that the Delhi-based Harshita Dahiya was a fan if also a soulmate of Qandeel Baloch. The 22-year old feisty folk singer was shot dead in Panipat last week, and she had all the attributes that Qandeel was known for — a great pride in her talent as a singer, a bold challenge thrown to the men she regarded as her lowly stalkers, and a loud and charming self- confidence. “I am a daughter of a Jatni tigress. Don’t trifle with me,” Dahiya roared in a clip she uploaded of herself shortly before her death. That was so much like Qandeel. Add the fact that both — nay, so many others like them — fought their way through a difficult patriarchal milieu in India and Pakistan.
Dahiya was killed allegedly by her brother-in-law after she filed a rape charge against him. Last December, 25-year-old Kulwinder Kaur was shot dead mid-performance in Punjab by an inebriated man.
“Getting caught in celebratory gunfire, fending off advances from drunk men, shady organizers who want to force them into sex work are all part of a dancer’s life,” says an analysis of the phenomenon in the Times of India. “It’s the burden of earning a living with a limited skill set”, the analysis quotes author Sonia Faleiro as saying. She has written a book on Mumbai’s dance bars: Beautiful Thing: Inside the Secret World of Bombay’s Dance Bars.
For all her bold talent and demeanor, singer Sapna Chaudhary revealed her vulnerability when she went into a bout of depression.
The 27-year-old girl, born to a middle-class family in Haryana, took to dancing after her father died. According to the Times, she first found popularity with a song called ‘Solid Body’, and her fame soon spread to neighboring states. Her YouTube videos — like Jabar Bharota — have an astonishing 71 million views.
“I plunged into depression after reading the abusive language used against me, to insult and torture me,” Sapna told a TV reporter from her hospital bed, a sense of betrayal dominating the confession.
While many women have come forward to share their individual experiences of sexual abuse and harassment after the Weinstein story broke, there is a silent majority that still sees little benefit from jogging a tormented memory. At any rate, the ‘Me too’ campaign could do well for its cause by stepping out of the social media limits to scour the reality of Qandeel Baloch and her ill-fated kindred spirits in different societies.
As for the men willing to join the liberating caravan started by the women, it may be construed as a good beginning that movie icons like Matt Damon and George Clooney have opened up about the ugly behavior of their sometimes boss and one-time friend Harvey Weinstein.
In an interview aired on Monday, both men said that they knew Weinstein was a “bully” and “womanizer” who bragged of bedding actresses but had no idea of the enormity of his crime. Qandeel means a lamp. What could be more appropriate than that to lead the caravan she may have launched?

Jawed Naqvi

The Article was Published in Dawn, October 24th, 2017

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