Qandeel Baloch: 'She was a girl just like you'

In a lower middle class neighbourhood of Multan, among a row of dilapidated houses, one dwelling stands out.

It's the one Qandeel Baloch rented for her parents. And this is where she died.

Inside, the walls are faded, the furniture is scarce. An old, disabled man is sobbing uncontrollably.

Qandeel's father Muhammad Azeem is grieving the death of his favourite daughter, allegedly at the hands of his own son, in the name of honour.

His wife sits on a day bed nearby. One moment she seems to sleeps as if to forget, the next she stares into space.

This is the household of the late social media sensation Qandeel Baloch, who's real name was Fozia Azeem. She was a kind of "agent provocateur" of Pakistani culture and society where religiously and culturally justified conservatism still rules.

She made a name for herself with outspoken social media posts and suggestive photos. She attracted public scrutiny and often fury, dished out with almost reckless abandon.

But her home life paints a picture of a much deeper personal struggle, a long journey from a life of poverty towards the path she carved out for herself.

"We come from a very poor background," says her mother Anwar Bibi, "We lived in a small village in Dera Ghazi Khan. Qandeel's father was in an accident and lost his foot. She brought us here, to the city, so he could get medical treatment, so we could live better."

Now her father spends his days hobbling from one police station to another on crutches, trying to seek punishment for his son for the murder of his daughter.

"She used to financially support everyone," he says, "When she sent money, they would all come running. Now when Waseem tries to see me at the police station, I don't even want to see his face. How could he kill his own sister so brutally?"

Qandeel's parents tell me their son Waseem was not living with them but he came to stay on a pretext when he heard Qandeel would be at home during the Eid holidays.

They say he put sedatives into their bed time milk so they would never know about their daughter's last moments.

Azeem's wrinkled hands tremble and jerk as his imagination takes hold of him.

"She must have cried out. She must have called her mother, she must have called out to her father, and we were sleeping like the dead", he says, beginning to cry. "Do you think we don't live with the pain?"


Qandeel Baloch in her own words

"I believe I am a modern day feminist. I believe in equality. I need not to choose what type of women should be. I don't think there is any need to label ourselves just for sake of society. I am just a women with free thoughts free mindset and I LOVE THE WAY I AM." (Facebook, 14 July)

Love me or hate me both are in my favour. If you love me I Will always be in your heart, if you hate me I'll always be in ur mind (Facebook, 3 July)


Out of poverty

Originally hailing from a conservative village called Shah Saddruddin in South Punjab - where ancient traditions and customs still prevail - Qandeel moved to the city to make a future for herself.

A local photographer from Multan claims she tried to kick-start a modelling career from here.

"She came to me for her first photo shoot, but it didn't work out for her", he says. "Then she left the city and later her pictures and videos began appearing on her Facebook page."

But neighbours say that they did not know Qandeel Baloch or her social media celebrity status. Whenever she came back home, she seems to have been content to spend time with her parents in private.

One neighbour told me her fame reached the area only recently.

"We just found out about Qandeel Baloch, when news came out on TV of her selfie with religious cleric Mufti Abdul Qawi. Then her former husband appeared in the media."

"We only found out Qandeel Baloch lived here when they brought out her dead body."

Although she appeared keen on her "brand" as a woman who did what she wanted, baring her skin and her soul to all, it seems her personality had more than one dimension.

"My daughter was searching for peace, that's why she came to me," Anwar Bibi says.

"She said 'Mum I'm so tired, of the cases and the criticism. But my time will come. Everyone says I have a bad reputation but I'll show them all what a simple girl from a small village can do.' "

In a society where people often remain chained to the social class or cultural context they are born into, this woman was dreaming of freedom and escape.

Or at least this is what I think her mother wants to tell me about her, although she can't quite find the words. Then she stops suddenly, looks at me, and smiles.

"She was a girl just like you, she laughed a lot, she talked a lot."