In an extremely conservative country where Muslim women are still expected to dress and act modestly, social media celebrity Qandeel Baloch stood out like a radiant jewel or a sore thumb, depending on who you ask. The outspoken Pakistani woman, 26, used Instagram to defy stereotypes about women in her country and to express her disapproval of Pakistan’s patriarchal society. And, for that, Baloch was reportedly strangled to death by her brother Wasim in an apparent “honor killing.”
The young woman, who became Kardashian famous in Pakistan for posting up-close photographs of her cleavage, photos of herself clad in leather pants and posing provocatively and even selfies with a prominent Muslim cleric (images that practically turned her into an enemy of the state), was confirmed dead by her parents, who told police that her brother strangled her after an argument. Baloch’s brother reportedly demanded that she quit modeling because he thought she was bringing dishonor to their family, but she wasn’t willing to follow his orders. Wasim reportedly fled the scene after the murder, according to police, and Baloch’s parents have been taken into custody.
Baloch’s birth name is Fouzia Azeem. She shot to fame in both Pakistan and around the world after promising to do an on-camera striptease if the Pakistani cricket team won in the World Twenty20 cricket championships. When India proved victorious instead, Baloch still did the strip dance to honor the Indian team. Needless to say, that didn’t go over so well in the Muslim-majority state.
Baloch considered herself “an inspiration to ladies who are treated badly” and revealed in an interview that, at 17, she was forced to marry an uneducated man she called “an animal.” She added, “I said, ‘No, I don’t want to spend my life this way.’ I was not made for this. It was my wish since I was a child to become something, to be able to stand on my own two feet, to do something for myself.”
Her most controversial photo to date remains this picture of herself with cleric Mufti Abdul Qavi, with whom she requested a meeting to talk about religion, but then ended up posing for selfies alongside (and she’s wearing his traditional lamb’s wool cap, to boot):
This photo and others similar to it led to Qavi’s suspension from the clerics, and Baloch began receiving death threats as a result of this photo series. She later claimed the Pakistani government did nothing to help her after she requested protection.
Sadly, honor killings like this one are still an all-too-common occurrence in Pakistan. More than 3,000 women were reportedly killed in honor cases between 2008 and 2014, according to the Pakistan Human Rights Commission, while The Aurat Foundation claims approximately 1,000 women each year are killed in Pakistan because they “dishonored” their families.
This is obviously a horribly sad day for Baloch’s fans and the many women who looked to her for inspiration. With hope, this incident will bring much-needed attention to the horrific practice of honor killings, most of which are never even reported by the victim’s family members.