The rise of bigotry

Posted on July 25, 2016

Qandeel Baloch is dead. That is how life works. You are born and you die. The bit in between is called life. But her death was not natural. Police and press reports so far suggest she was murdered by her own brother. In the name of honour. The honour that otherwise goes on long vacations when the prime threat to it, invariably a woman, a daughter, a sister or a mother, compromises her own dignity to put food on the table for the entire family. Our society, like many others, is very brutal when it comes to treating the working women. Sexual harassment is almost the norm of the day. Especially in small-and medium-sized organisations. Many women fight the culture of abuse and deserve to be celebrated as heroes. But no one does. Others are not as courageous. In both cases, the fault lies with society. And the state. Their abject poverty in defending their children from abuse.

I did not know the slain woman personally. What her line of work was. How she sustained herself and the family that would one day kill her in the name of honour. I never really enjoyed the televised controversies involving her. Or her television presence. But having said this, I must point out nothing she did deserved this fate. This fate and the way an army of idiots kept rationalising even justifying her murder. Or the indifference as if this was business as usual. And there is something really off about you as well, dear reader, if you agreed with the first four lines of this piece. Seek help.

One day she was on your television screen telling a room full of reporters how she feared for her life and needed security. Security that didn’t come. The next day she was dead. This is not business as usual. If this doesn’t shock us, sadden us, offend us, nauseate us nothing else will. We need to seek help.

Within minutes of the news her name was trending on the social media, in chat groups and text messages. But not for the reasons you would think. A sick army of trolls was busy justifying the murder. In the name of faith or in the name of custom. Injustice done to both. And when you look at it a clear pattern emerges. Of blaming the victim. Always blaming the victim. Within hours of Salman Taseer’s murder a torrent of text and social media messages had convinced many that the former was a blasphemer and his assassin a hero. When Malala barely survived a shot to her head, within minutes the spin masters were at it telling us how the entire episode was a premeditated hoax and the minor girl a stooge of the West. This spin cannot be anything but work of an organised setup. An organised setup promoting religious bigotry, either because of misinterpretation of religion or premeditated antisocial designs. That too, in the time of the national action plan. No one has, so far, unearthed such groups, no one has been taken to task. The modern world’s inability to expose and punish such spin masters will one day prove to be the undoing of democracy and the civilisation.

Then there is the matter of self-accountability. Many media men do not want to face the fact that their news establishments played a vital role in making a mountain out of a molehill, built hype that eventually led to the gruesome murder. The craving for ratings is one thing but some channels went overboard and started an inquisition which deprived Qandeel’s family the relative anonymity in which it was living and brought tremendous pressure on her kith and kin who evidently did not know how to handle it. If you think there is nothing wrong in flashing the passport and the credentials of an unarmed, undefended and vulnerable civilian then you have poor taste in journalism. It is my belief that even exposing her humble origins might have led to her death because the society never forgives audacity to dream about upward mobility. And don’t forget that Mufti Qavi was allowed to come on air and gloat.

My immediate reaction to the news? As a father of minor girls, I felt there was no point in staying in the country. But then it hit me that if Trump becomes the president of the United States, this may become a norm all over the world. So what’s the point of moving to another place when it poses exactly the same set of challenges. If you are against this state of affairs, speak now or hold your peace forever.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 23rd, 2016.

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