Social media: A blessing or a curse?

Honour killings that claim many lives each year stem not from religion but from traditional patriarchy and occur when women are seen as having "dishonoured" their families

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Everything comes with a price. Social media is both a curse and a blessing as everyone wants to be a star on virtual platforms. Social media has gained so much momentum around the world that the new generation is incomplete without it. Playgrounds are deserted because the youth is engrossed in social media to get overnight fame. To become popular online, young people often take wrong steps.

Social media also promotes negativity, such as inadequacy about life or appearances. There is increasing evidence that misuse of internet and social media can influence suicide-related behaviour and so-called ‘honour killings’ in countries like Pakistan. Cases of women killed for ‘dishonouring’ their family are commonplace in Pakistan, and one such murder was that of Qandeel Baloch in 2016. Qandeel, a social media star, known as Pakistan’s Kim Kardashian, was strangled to death by her brother for “dishonouring” the family name by being outspoken about many things.

Honour killings that claim many lives each year stem not from religion but from traditional patriarchy and occur when women are seen as having ‘dishonoured’ their families. Murderers often get off lightly, especially in Pakistan, where a legal loophole allows the guilty relative to walk free if families forgive them.

Baloch’s death sparked outrage in Pakistan, fuelled by her massive fan base. Under pressure from women’s activist groups, the then government announced plans to close the ‘forgiveness’ loophole. But it might take more than legal reforms to end this deep-rooted and deadly custom.

An awful incident was reported on Pakistan’s Independence Day when a TikTok star Ayesha Akram was publicly humiliated and harassed at Minar-e-Pakistan by more than 400 men. She was filmed, continuously attacked by the mob in broad daylight, and no one tried to rescue her. The video of Ayesha being insulted, assaulted, harassed, and tossed into the air went viral on social media.

Ayesha said that the mob picked her up and tossed her around for a long time, and calls to the police emergency helpline at 6:30pm were not answered until 9:30pm. “I was stripped, and my clothes were torn off,” she said in the police report, adding that her gold ornaments, cash, and mobile phone were also stolen. “No part of my body was left without bruises.”

I had the opportunity to meet Ayesha and her teammates many times after the incident. Expressing her concerns regarding her security, she appealed to government to provide her a house so that she could live in a safe environment. Ayesha, a nurse by profession, belongs to a poor family and is the soul bread earner of her home, currently working in the Punjab Institute of Cardiology.

A few days ago, when I met Ayesha at her residence in the presence of her lawyer, I found out that like Baloch, Ayesha’s brother could kill her in the name of honour. She told me that her brother was carrying a weapon with him after the incident, and her life was in danger. It was discovered that Ayesha’s brother was very upset because her area residents started to mock him after the Minar-e-Pakistan incident. The security of the new social media sensation also remains a big issue as she is unable to go out because of the threats made to her, and people recognising her. Ayesha has also been a victim of societal hatred after the unfortunate incident. A policeman has been deployed by the Shahdara police outside her house after she requested them to provide security alleging that she was getting death threats from blackmailers. When I was at her house, her sobbing mother told me that not a single member of her family visited their house to commiserate after Ayesha’s story made headlines. She said she couldn’t sleep after the incident.

Ayesha’s mother pleaded me to save her daughter as everyone is holding Ayesha responsible for the horrific incident. Fearing for her life, Ayesha said that she had no idea if she would ever be able to see me again before someone from inside or outside killed her. The TikTok star has repeatedly been asked by many people to go into hiding or move somewhere else but she cannot go anywhere as people recognise her everywhere. She has been unable to continue her job after the incident.

Ayesha’s friends and colleagues have also not been in contact with her out of fear and due to what happened to her at the Greater Iqbal Park on Independence Day.

Ayesha told me that her friend and teammate Rambo had made, without her knowledge, indecent videos of her to blackmail her. She said that Rambo and one of his accomplices, Khan Baba, had taken around one million rupees from her, blackmailing her for her “obscene” videos. “I had no idea that I was being used,” she added. Ayesha added that her engagement was also called off due to those videos. Rambo, a brick kiln worker, is married and has children.

The victim’s former friend and teammate Rambo told me that Ayesha didn’t listen to him; otherwise, that incident wouldn’t have happened in the first place. Rambo was also furious with Ayesha and complained to her repeatedly for not promoting him in media.