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There Can Be No Role Models In A Conflict Zone

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There can be no role models in a conflict zone. Period.
Zaira Wasim in a scene from Dangal

Zaira Wasim starred in the record-breaking Aamir Khan movie that raked over ₹350 crore and became the highest grossing movie ever. Her performance was lauded and appreciated and not a single Kashmiri spoke against her achievement, but the controversy that has raged after she met the Chief Minister was on expected lines. Zaira met the same Chief Minister who oversaw the bloodshed of Kashmiris for five long months. The anger against the CM has come out on the young achiever and she is being criticised for the petty reason of meeting Mehbooba Mufti. There can be no denial of the fact that the anger against the Chief Minister is genuine, but Zaira did not have any role to play in the 5-month long unrest in Kashmir. She has simply become the victim of being an outstanding performer in the midst of a raging conflict. Her personal success has become subject to the fact that she is a Kashmiri. Her talent has become the casualty of conflict. What was her fault? She acted in a movie and impressed everyone with her splendid act, but back home – in her own backyard, she is being trolled for sharing a cup of tea with Mehbooba Mufti?

Mufti announced a scooty scheme for girls when the unrest was at its peak, and it was overwhelmingly reciprocated. There was a huge demand for the subsidy announced by the CM. Where was the conscious mind of the trolls back then? Those who are trolling Zaira for her achievement might have been the same who availed the scooty scheme and the upcoming Mountain Bike scheme from the government. Why was there no furore at that time? Zaira did not team up with the government in any of its initiatives, neither did she accept any gift or money from the CM. She is an individual who has proved her mettle by showcasing her talent. This brings us to the fact that there can be no role-models in a conflict zone.

Shah Faesal topped the IAS in 2009 and his achievement was also celebrated throughout the valley but he has also come under attack of the trolls because of his recent comments regarding Kashmir’s future with India. Shah Faesal could have been a role model for what he has achieved but when you live in a conflict zone, you can’t have role models.

The mainstream is bereft of any substantial amount of following in Kashmir. Kashmiris consider anything related to India as their opposite. Parvez Rasool is praised when he plays in the IPL but there is a certain degree of resentment when he wears the blue jersey. Shah Faesal is trolled because he is thought to be an ‘Indian’ bureaucrat. In Kashmir, anything ‘mainstream’ is Indian.

We have lived our lives waiting for local role models to exert their positive influence on us, but when the state’s repression attains its height and triggers the boiling point of people, Burhan Wani becomes a phenomenon and not Zaira Wasim or Shah Faesal. How will Zaira Wasim become a phenomenon when children have seen the dead bodies of their loved ones? To their psyche, Burhan Wani fits best. A gun-totting young individual, extremely good at his studies, coming from a well-off family, giving up every comfort in his life to fight the repression. The Kashmiri youth have lived their lives under the shadow of the gun and a gun-totting youngster standing against the forces are their best role models.

Insha, 14, was blinded by a pellet gun. Photo via Twitter @malikzaeemawan.

We can’t be forced to choose our role model by a Chief Minister who is responsible for the present situation. We can’t adore Shah Faesal or Zaira Wasim. We simply can’t. On one hand, we see Zaira. A young talented girl who mesmerised everyone with her potential but we have Insha too, another young girl who dreamt of being a doctor but the state machinery wiped all her dreams. In such a scenario, the confusion of choosing our role-model prevails.

We are proud of Zaira for what she has achieved and we continue to wish greater success for her in the coming years, but she can’t be seen as a role-model for the youth of a state which has seen bloodshed all its life. In a conflict zone, the people who suffer at the hands of the state machinery always choose their true representatives, who speak for their rights as their role-models and that is where the debate ends.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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