Our own Qandeel Baloch is Poonam Pandey who stirs up steamy sensation and trolling orgies and gets abused and threatened for her audacious assertions of her sexual identity.
Poonam is abroad when she heard the news of her Pakistani counterpart’s murder . “I got the news of Qandeel’s death far away from home, and it shook me up.I am shooting a reality show here in Bali and representing India.I was just going through the twitter trends and saw the news of her murder. I still cannot believe this, to be very honest. I am shocked.”
Poonam cannot make sense of Qandeel’s killing. “I don’t understand.Why did they kill her? And was it her own brothers? Why? Was she a criminal? What was her crime?”
Though Poonam feels unsafe on the streets she is grateful she has the freedom to say and behave the way she wants without a threat to her life. “Thank God I am Indian .We are a nation of tolerant people. At the most I get abused for the some of my comments , like when I offered to streak for a cricketer. I believe Qandeel offered the same. But these are all done for provocative fun. No offence meant to anyone. My family ,my brother shout at me. But they won’t kill me just because I dress and talk the way I do!”
Poonam does get her family’s disapproval. “My family does react sometimes.At the most they will not talk to me for two days. Maybe if I offend my parents with my behaviour they won’t sit with me for dinner, maximum they will ask me ‘Yeh drama kab tak chalega?’ .But no threats to my life not even a slap, ever.”
The closest Poonam came to a genuine threat was some years ago,quite close to her home on Mira Road in Mumbai ,when she was accosted by cops for allegedly “misbehaving” with a man in her car.
The man, as it happens to be, was Poonam’s own brother.
Deeply disturbed Poonam recalls, “This was worse than the Taliban. It was 10.30 pm .Not even late by metropolitan standards . I was with my brother, my own brother Aditya Pandey, and I wasn’t drinking or misbehaving in the car at all, when I was questioned by cops.”
Poonam says the cops behaved normally until they heard her name. “The minute I said I was Poonam Pandey their attitude changed. They began to get aggressive .They wanted to know what I was doing in the car with a man. What was I doing in the car with a man? Wohmerasagaa bhai hai. My blood brother.”
Poonam feels she was hauled up only because of who she was. “The cops felt since I was Poonam Pandey they could create some excitement in their lives.And they got their 8 minutes of fame. Suddenly it’s all over on the tv channels.All kinds of strange insinuations are being made about my behaviour , my dress and the company I kept.If I can be pulled up for going on a drive with my brother I shudder to think what would happen to any girl who goes out there with her boyfriend. I see the Talibanism of Mumbai in the hands of the local administration.Unwanted male attention is nothing new to me. I faced it when I was just an ordinary girl, a non-entity. I face it now when I am a known face.”
She has to live with the danger of being stalked. “ I was at the mall shopping for home stuff and a man kept following me everywhere. I’ve gotten used to pretending that such attention doesn’t bother me. But the fact is, I get very rattled from inside. I hide my fear at unwanted attention so that the intruder doesn’t feel even more encouraged.”
Poonam demolishes the myth that celebrities get more unwanted attention. “It is wrong to believe celebrities are more vulnerable to being attacked. Actually celebrities are more protected from attacks.What about the single college-girl or working-girl in the city traveling by train or bus? I shudder to think what they go through every day.”
But yes, women who are dress and behave in a purportedly provocative fashion are easy targets.
Opines Poonam, “I think a lot of men think women who are controversial and comfortable with their bodies are easy preys. They tend to look at me as someone whom they can take liberties with. That becomes a problem, yes. While traveling I am specially scared of what can happen , although I have bouncers with me at all given time. But still… “
It’s specially tough to be Poonam Pandey staying at hotel in an alien city. “When I am staying at hotels I ask my bouncers to stay as close to my room as possible because there are always drunk men knocking at 3 am on my door.By now I should get used to it.But each time I hear that pounding my heart pounds. Just because I am a known figure doesn’t mean I am more safe/unsafe than the girl who travels wearing a salwaar-kameez to work praying that no one will touch her in a repulsive way. Every girl in the country is unsafe.”
By pointing fingers at women who don’t conform to traditional definitions of a ‘Good Girl” Poonam feels people seek scapegoats for their own failings. “Why blame me or Qandeel for social evils? I am just a girl trying to find my place in the world.I am used to being targeted by the moral police and the morcha wallis. When law and order fails the blame has to pinned to some convenient target. But why blame me ?What have I done? Main toh sirf baat karti hoon. Maine kuch kiya nahin. There are renowned respected actresses who heave and thrust in item songs. They are watched by a lot more men than I am.”
However Poonam thinks rape has no connection with the pin-up provocateurs. “I don’t think men go out and commit crime against women because of what they see in films and in pictures .On the contrary I feel there would be far less crime against women if there would be more sexual gratification at home for men belonging to a certain class who don’t have direct and easy access to female company.”
This is where Poonam feels the revival of the beer-bar culture does its bit. “I think re-opening the beer bars would reduce crime against women on the streets. Men would be able to have at least some access to erotic gratification.”
Poonam objects strongly to the view that women invite unwanted attention by the way they dress. “Oh please! 5-year old girls get raped. Do they wear short skirts that provoke such crimes? It is ridiculous to suggest that rape can be prevented if women remain fully clothed.”
In any case Poonam feels mainstream Hindi cinema has a lot to be answerable for. “I’ve seen them indulge in shameless sex talk where heroes are making pointed references to women’s body parts. What kind of example are these iconic stars setting?I’ve never posed nude. Even that picture that was posted of me nude after the PL victory was morphed. I even admitted that later at the risk of disappointing my fans.I’ve threatened to go nude. But have I really done it?”