Feb 2, 2020
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‘A Woman Like Her: The Story Behind the Honor Killing of a Social Media Star,’ by Sanam Maher: An Excerpt

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“These media people hounded her,” Anwar bibi says. “They just wouldn’t stop. Hounded her beyond all limits.”

“The media got her killed,” Shah says with a sigh. “She just wanted to be famous. She wanted to make a name for herself. She wanted people to know that Qandeel exists. I once asked her, and we used to speak practically every day you know, if she knew why people spoke badly of her. They are jealous of you, I told Qandeel. They are jealous of your fame.”

With Shah deftly steering the conversation, Anwar bibi and Azeem’s explanation for why their son, Waseem, killed Qandeel comes out as a muddled version of the story that has been told, retold and then untold over the last few months. A month before we meet, Anwar bibi and Azeem were interviewed on a talk show about their daughter. They said that Qandeel was scared of her brothers and feared their reaction to the kind of work that she was doing. Azeem told a reporter that his daughter had confided in him about this, saying, “Baba, sometimes I feel my younger brother wants to kill me.”

Today, they speak proudly of their daughter to me. They insist on calling her “Qandeel,” the name she chose for herself, and not “Fouzia,” the name they gave her. She is a shehnshah (a queen), the one whose name will always be remembered, the one who became famous, a brave-hearted girl who was a tomboy and loved to swim, ride bikes, run six miles at a time, and do karate. She was intelligent, far more than their other children, bringing home prizes for her work in school and becoming class monitor. She danced at the slightest hint of a tune. She was not naughty but knew how to stand up for herself. She beat up a man who teased her sister but was not cut out for hard work like harvesting, milking cows, cleaning, and cooking like the other women in the village. When she came to Multan for ten days at a time, she liked to sleep for much of the day. She liked to be fashionable. She loved children and spoiled them. She cried for her son when she lost custody of him.

“And now that she is gone, you must think of that child,” Shah interrupts.

“Don’t say things like that,” Anwar bibi replies.

“I don’t want that child,” Azeem says, scowling. “You need to get that child somehow,” Shah tells them. “He is her nishaani [memory].”

A few weeks after she died, Qandeel’s landlord in Karachi sent her parents a notice to collect her things and pay a few months of outstanding rent. The letter had the address of her apartment, and her parents finally found out where she had been living in Karachi. Azeem and Anwar bibi travelled there with Safdar Shah. “This sofa you’re sitting on?” Shah says, pointing. “Qandeel’s. That table. Qandeel’s. Want to see the rest?” Her clothes, wispy silk shirts, jeans and soft chiffon tunics, fill a steel cupboard in one room. In another—the room where Anwar bibi says she walked in that morning in July to find her daughter unresponsive, a cloth thrown over her face—a bright red and yellow suitcase lies on the floor, more clothes bursting out of it.

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