Shaheena Shaheen’s murder yet again brought into light the vulnerability of Baloch women—especially of those who dare to make their way across the invisible red lines of patriarchy. The Baloch variety of patriarchy also shares the key character of the said system: that the dominance of men over the social, political and intellectual structures, tolerates the inclusion & participation of women in social fields as long as the aspiring women limits herself within the abstractions set by the men. So that they can live, they must not resist appropriation in all of its manifestations. The very moment a daring woman shows any ambitions of outgrowing the narrow man made limits, she is not just threatened and subdued but also tortured and killed in broad daylight, that too with impunity.
On 5th of September, 25 years old Shaheena was murdered in Turbat town allegedly by her husband Nawabzada Mehrab Gichki with whom she was married for about six months. Sources privy to the matter claim that the husband, audaciously called Shaheena’s mother after the incident and asked her to collect the dead body from the district hospital. Gichki’s nonchalance is understandable, as he is a member of the (ex)aristocracy that once ruled Makuran. Although, formal tribal titles are now defunct in the region for over half a century. But the entitlement and social capital carried over, just like many other parts of the world. The bygone tribal aristocracy joined by international drug lords, religious militants, and oligarchs of oil smuggling rackets form and run the murky underworld of Makuran. As shown by repeated incidents in the region, this new criminal alliance has developed deep roots within the state structures as they also work to reinforce the writ of the state in these restive regions.
The unrest in the Baloch society, which was already agitated by the wave of violence targeting women, has further intensified after the murder of Shaheena. Therefore, the disturbing incident is also being viewed by the political class as a continuation of similar attacks on Baloch women. It is argued that the decades long conflict in Balochistan is impacting the entirety of its population, irrespective of gender where women are simply victims of political repression alongside their male counterparts. Beneath the cross gender political repression thesis certain sections of Baloch intelligentsia and the political elites try to cover its internal fault lines which have grown so sharp, intensified under the influence of new forces emerging from within the conflict, that they cannot be ignored any more. Among these fault lines patriarchal repression in the form of male dominance, misogyny, and gender segregation have also translated into violence.
We believe Shaheena became a victim of the patriarchal structures of the society. She had to suffer and embrace a cruel death at a young age because of her gender and because she was a woman who was supposed to obey the commands of her husband, regardless how ridiculous they were. She had to accept restrictions imposed upon her — to quit her social life, to distance herself from her art and to choose silence. Lest we forget, she wanted to be the voice for the voiceless. One must mention that none of the above is experienced by the heterosexual men of the society, nor they make a reason for their death. Of course, there is no denial that for Baloch men, abduction, torture, and death are a everyday reality. But for the women their gender and sexuality are a death sentence, specially for those who choose a liberated life for themselves
This is not just about Shaheena, but every Baloch woman exposed to the changing economic and social conditions. To came out into the public space which is already dominated by men whose most powerful sections in the Baloch society are organized and armed to the teeth poses special risks. This category of heterosexual men can go to any limits to reinforce their dominance at the cost of innocent lives.
Who was Shaheena Shaeen?
Shaheena was the eldest among five daughters of Bibi Mahrang, a brave mother from Turbat who has been fighting her own fight against patriarchy. Her father, expecting a male child, left them when her mother gave birth to the fifth girl, leaving the family of five daughters and a mother to survive on their own. Shaheena’s mother embraced the challenges of patriarchy and raised her girls independent of any male support. She is also known as the first woman who drove a car to support her family in Turbat town where even today it is a taboo for most of the female professionals.
Shaheena grew up under a strong woman in a house with no dominant man to impose the patriarchal restrictions. Her mother’s struggle turned the challenges of patriarchy into new possibilities for her daughters, from there she set off on the journey to push further the boundaries for women in Baloch society. Here a generational struggle truly presents the larger Baloch society a immanent moment.
Shaheena began her journey with Dazgohar magazine, the first ever women’s journal in Balochi language to amplify the voice of Baloch women. The first edition of the magazine was published in 2014 when she was a young student. The immature journal stopped there, but she did not. She broke the next barrier by joining the entertainment industry through the state-run PTV Bolan. She started working as host of a morning show in September, 2012. Her role as a female editor of magazine did not attracted much attention. But the entertainment industry was a popular space with majority of its audience being male who could see their patriarchal power and the gender roles breaking apart on the screen.
However, such norms started changing with the capitalist advancement of technology across the globe on the eve of the new millennium. The change came to Baloch society much later and with a slow pace, but it did arrive. The breakdown of social structures created a new stratum of population that was forced by the material conditions of life to deviate against the established norms. The new opportunities created by the increasing monetization of economy and the new technology served as a tool for the growth of the new forms of expression and being within the Baloch society. Shaheena became the face of change. Her tool initially was the electronic media through which she gained outreach to almost every middle-class household in Balochistan. Although she along with a growing number of women in popular space were a source of entertainment for the male audience, but it also showed the women living under oppressive family structures the world beyond the boundaries enacted around them by their so called protectors.
The entertainment industry gave her fame and fortune which enabled her to confront the male dominance of the society and its religious and cultural dogmas. She chose the medium of art to express the agony of Baloch women of which her life story was just another chapter. She started studying fine-arts at the University of Balochistan in 2015 where she graduated with a gold medal. Her efforts indicate that she believed that Baloch women can break free from the chains of patriarchy with the right opportunities.
Her confrontation with the male dominated status quo did not go well for herself. She was forced to marry young with her mismatched cousin at the onset of her fame, as the male authority of the society could not tolerate a young unmarried woman becoming example for the women they suppress at home. She must have misjudged the Baloch patriarchy thinking that her marriage with her cousin will shut the criticism that were coming her way. This first major compromise of hers’ ended in complications and ultimately on divorce. This separation might have been a sigh of relief for her as she returned to her creativity, resuming her young dream of Dazgohar Magazine, and enriching her artistic capabilities in which she had started to craft her new image independent of her fame as a TV host. Her new life introduced her to new elite circles where she met her future husband and alleged murderer, Nawabzada Merhab Gichki.
Her marriage with a person of higher status was an ill-fated union. She knew no artificial boundaries of the regressive society and set on a path that cuts through not just economic and social status, but the notorious hierarchy of zat, the ‘tribal’ caste system of Makuran that still works as a major factor in social stratification. She made it to the glass ceiling, the limits of what a woman in Baloch society can achieve but no further. She had no place in the world of Mehrab Gichki, where crime meets social status and the armed religious dogmas.
Around six months before her murder she got married with Gichki despite her mother’s opposition to another mismatched union. Her husband for his so called status could not even openly admit the marriage. After a secret marriage she was forced to live a life away from the lime light, a life as desired by a criminal influenced by radical religious thoughts. She was forced to quit not just her profession as a host, but also to restrict her social and creative life. She was not seen in any social event for months before her murder. Her last wish was a child from her new marriage. On Saturday, the 5th of September she was taken to a house by her husband, where she was tortured and shot dead. Her murderer, allegedly her husband left the body with scars and slap marks, at district hospital’s entrance and walked away with no fear of whatever consequence her murder might bring.
Note: This feature story is written by Balochistan Marxist Review team in collaboration with the close companions and the family of Shaheena Shaheen.