Standing with Qandeel Baloch in My Stilettos


Standing with Qandeel Baloch in My Stilettos

Illustration: Namaah/ Arré

When the first SlutWalk kicked off in 2011, I refused to be part of it. Women around the world were taking their right to sexuality back and within months, Delhi got its own version, the Besharmi Morcha. As my friends marched to Jantar Mantar, in matching t-shirts, which screamed that terrifying word, I hung back. To me, it was just another attempt to sex up and dumb down decades of agitation and political thought.

I grew up in Delhi, where attention, objectification, and aggression are divided by very thin lines. As a girl, I had taught myself how to navigate public spaces without being visible, claiming as little space as I could. T-shirts were covered up with stoles; dresses were reserved for nights, when I knew I would be chauffeured around. And I responded to both loud whistles and whispered slurs by quickening my pace, as I walked to school in my sensible shoes.

Then I grew up only to reinforce my decision to abdicate my sexuality — the mouth remained un-lipsticked, and the feet remained un-heeled. I refused to date anyone who expected this performance of gender. I bought red lipstick, but never wore it on any night outs, putting it on in the confines of my room and then wiping it off. I derided stilettos. I told myself that I was simply refusing to conform. But deep down, I knew I had a mortal fear of being branded a “slut”, the easiest and most cutting of put-downs which diminishes a woman to just a body and its impulses, a desired-but-derided object and nothing else.

Qandeel Baloch was one of those women, one of the “sluts”. Not afraid to be diminished to a body.

The indentations that mark my contact with earth, echo my headspace. My inches will speak louder than my words.

I first heard of Qandeel just a few months ago, when she announced in a video, which got almost 10 lakh views within a few hours, that she would “strip dance for the country” if the Pakistani cricket team defeated India in the ICC World T20.

There she was, lying in bed, black lingerie peeking out of a white shirt, promising to take her clothes off for the “mulk”. A bright pink mouth dominated a cherubic face, an anglicised twang attempted to cover a vernacular slant, and her breath came slow and deliberate. Qandeel, who proudly wore the feminist tag, was out to provoke, and boy did she do a good job of it.

Qandeel revelled in her stilettos, twerked unabashedly in a pink mini, and invited comments that detailed a million ways the men would fuck her. She also invited outrage and warnings of an early grave.

And that is where Qandeel lies today, inside an early grave. It is not an uncommon end for women in societies shaped by a toxic, intolerant masculinity. Ours is one of them.  Which is why we need SlutWalks. Which is why we need Besharmi Morchas. I understand now that in my fear of repercussions, I had toed the line and Qandeel had refused to, that too in a country where the threats were more sinister and real. She stood tall and proud in vertiginous heels.

Today, I stand with her.

I stand with her, not afraid to look all kinds of sexy – my feet arched, my toes screaming, my spine stretched out. I understand now that heels are not about the height. Heels are about the state of mind. Heels are not about pandering to the male, they are about embracing the female. The indentations that mark my contact with earth, echo my headspace. My inches will speak louder than my words.

The one-inch barely-there wedges can be picked for my “I’m feeling easy” days, two-inch kittens for days when the world needs colour, three-inch pumps and I will be ready to take on a fight, four-inch peep-toes are for the days when life is going right, five is for when I want to conquer the world, and at six I’m ready to stomp all over patriarchy.

For Qandeel, I wear six inches.