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Just Like Sania, Why Zaira Doesn’t Need To Apologise To Anyone

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“Beware of false knowledge; it is more dangerous than ignorance.” – George Bernard Shaw

This quote could not ring truer along with the ringing in on 2017. Other than Jallikattu, Zaira Wasim, the child artiste from the movie “Dangal” was trending news over the last few weeks.

All hell broke loose after the Jammu and Kashmir government released photographs of Zaira Wasim with the Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti. Ever since, Zaira has been receiving heavy criticism from the people of Kashmir in particular. Her posters have been burnt and she has been receiving issues of death threats from masked militants.

The Kashmiris have lost all trust in their Chief Minister. Mehbooba Mufti is the chief of PDP, the ruling party which is in coalition with the BJP. Especially after the July 2016 killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani. The killing was followed by more killing. Nearly 90 people died in the violence that followed. So, this issue has clearly taken a very dangerous political and religious turn.

Contrary to the girl she played onscreen in “Dangal”, the real life Zaira Wasim is fearful of her life and possibly, her family as well. Let’s be frank, most people in her place would be. Who knows who her enemies are and how dangerous they are? Who is she dealing with? How powerful are they and what are their connections? So, the girl decided to play it safe and publicly apologised on Twitter.

“I hope people remember that I’m a just a 16-year-old girl and I hope you treat me accordingly. I’m sorry for what I did but it was not a deliberate decision and I really hope people can forgive me…I understand the sentiments behind it especially considering what had happened over the past 6 months.”

And it didn´t just stop with an apology for meeting the Chief Minister. It went beyond that.

“I’m not proud of what I’m doing and I want everyone, especially the youth to know that there are real role models…”

So, basically, she was apologetic for playing a Hindu character in the big bad world of Bollywood. And that automatically disqualifies her from being a ‘good role model’ for Muslim women. She does not want anyone to follow in her ‘unholy’ footsteps.

Zaira (left) in a still from Dangal.

But the drama does not end there. Giving this non-issue an even more colourful spin, Wasim found herself trapped in another religious and political cage. Vijay Goel, BJP Union minister for sports and youth affairs posted a picture of him standing next to a painting of a woman in a hijab, trapped in a cage and remarked “This painting tells a story similar to that of Zaira Wasim. More power to our daughters!”

To this, Zaira responded, “Sir, with all respect to you, I feel I must disagree. I request you not to connect me to such a discourteous depiction. Women in hijab are beautiful and free. Moreover, the story depicted through this painting is not even remotely relevant to mine.”

Is that the kind of world we want our children or anyone of us to live in? Yes, I understand it is a political issue. The Kashmiris have every right and their own valid reasons for being hurt, disillusioned and angry with the Kashmir government. But, death threats to an innocent 16-year-old girl is a bit too extreme.

Let’s shift the focus from Zaira Wasim to Sania Mirza. I am not the greatest fan of her game but I am most definitely a fan of her persona. I love Sania Mirza’s attitude, her confidence, her passion, and her grit. Her mental strength is the secret of her professional success. I have always maintained that she is a fantastic role model for women in this country. And the more I see her grow and evolve over the years, the more I love her.

Now Sania Mirza has been the bone of contention for both Muslims and Hindus.

When Sania Mirza hit the Indian tennis scene, she was the biggest sensation in the country. Which disturbed a few of the orthodox Muslim clergy who issued a Fatwa against her in 2005, with a demand to cover up. She was targeted and criticised for wearing short skirts and revealing tops on the international tennis circuit.

“The dress she wears on the tennis courts…leaves nothing to the imagination. She will undoubtedly be a corrupting influence,” said Haseeb-ul-Hasan Siddiqui, a senior cleric of the Sunni Ulema Board.

Sania Mirza at the Brisbane International. Image source: Chris Hyde/Getty Images.

Then in 2007, she got into another controversy for shooting a promotional campaign for Hyderabad’s heritage site Charminar at Mecca Masjid. This time she apologised:

“While I am fully aware that a woman must not enter the sanctity of the mosque, I was unaware that even entering the outer gates of a mosque was seriously objectionable, specially without permission, which I was assured by the agency they possessed.”

On New Year’s day in 2008, she got into deep waters for resting her feet on a table that was right in front of the Indian national flag. Following which, Prakash Singh Thakur, a social worker filed a case against her under the Prevention of Insult to the National Honour Act. She said that the pose was unintentional and accidental when her patriotism was questioned.

In 2010, she came under the patriotism radar yet again when she married a man whom she loved, and who happened to be the famous Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik. Now, that is one hell of a combination to anger any ‘patriotic’ Indian in the country. Her integrity, character, loyalty and patriotism were questioned. Then in 2013, Telangana BJP leader K. Laxman addressed Sania as the ‘daughter-in-law of Pakistan’ questioning her credentials to be the brand ambassador of Telangana.

And who can ever forget her spontaneous and clever response to the journalist, Rajdeep Sardesai for questioning when is she finally going to ‘settle down’!

Sardesai: Amidst all the celebrityhood, when is Sania going to settle down? Is it going to be in Dubai? Is it going to be in any other country? What about motherhood… building a family… I don’t see all that in the book, it seems like you don’t want to retire just yet to settle down.

Mirza: You don’t think I’m settled?

Sardesai: You don’t talk about retirement, about raising a family, about motherhood, what’s life beyond tennis is going to be…

Mirza: You sound disappointed that I’m not choosing motherhood over being number one in the world at this point of time. But I’ll answer your question anyway, that’s the question I face all the time as a woman, that all women have to face — the first is marriage and then it’s motherhood. Unfortunately, that’s when we’re settled, and no matter how many Wimbledons we win or number ones in the world we become, we don’t become settled. But eventually it will happen, not right now. And when it does happen I’ll be the first one to tell everybody when I plan to do that.

Sardesai: I must apologise, I framed that question very badly. I promise you, you’re right, I would never ask this question to a male athlete…

Mirza: I’m so glad, you’re the first journalist to apologise to me on national television.

As you can see, Sania’s reactions have always been badass. She is the Muslim equivalent of Rishi Kapoor. Rishi Kapoor is a self-proclaimed ‘beef-eating Hindu’ and he’s openly challenged anyone who questions his faith. He is a temple going, ritual following Hindu man who is proud of his roots. But, he eats beef and he doesn’t see how that should affect anyone’s else life and he dares anyone who questions his Hindu belief systems. He’s known to block all those who impose their views on him and abuse him for his way of life or his opinion. He’s always been brutally honest and unapologetic for his way of life or thoughts. It is simply nobody’s business.

Sania Mirza is a devout Muslim. She lives her life the way she thinks is right for her often making her own choices and being unapologetic about it! Thus, bringing on the ire of both the Mullahs and Sadhvis but never bowing down to either.

The problem in this country is that one’s individuality is completely insignificant. There is no respect and sensitivity for an individual’s opinions, thoughts, likes, dislikes or choices. You are expected in fit in with the standard protocol. Often, in most cases than not, standards of mediocrity and hypocrisy. Or else, you are branded a freak or an outcast.

Mediocrity hates being challenged with ingeniousness. Veiled hypocrisy hates being confronted by the naked truth. That’s the bottom-line problem. Not a Zaira or a Sania or a Rishi Kapoor!

I am glad that we have people like Rishi Kapoor and Sania Mirza in this country who are unapologetic for the individual choices that they have made in their lives. They may not fit into your conventional picture of what a role model Hindu or Muslim might be, but the fact remains that they are proud devout followers of their faith. I see the same kind of bullying even among other religious groups.

Back to Zaira! I will not be harsh on her because she is only 16 years old. Seriously, all I would like to say is give that child a break. Let her enjoy her youth, her newly found fame. Let her be! Let her do what she wants to do. Be it trying to meet politicians to empower women, or make roads to joining politics if she has political aspirations, or join acting classes or pursue science or go on a celebratory worldwide tour or visit discotheques. Let her do what she wants to!

Right now, she is on the defensive. She has clearly made a choice not to upset the religious authorities. Unlike Sania Mirza, who was pretty clear in her head and conscience that she was not wrong in her intent or choices.

Yes, we all live in a society, belong to a particular community, gender and a religious group and a certain country.  And it’s great to belong to so many groups. But, it is tough trying to find that perfect balance when you’re classified into so many various sub-categories. Then, you have a hard time trying to figure out your true identity and what you should be standing for. And that is a very tough call for not just a 16-year-old Zaira, but many adults. They have no idea why they fight or stand for a particular cause. And if they do, how tolerant are they of other groups or other individuals choices?

All I can say with certainty is that there is nothing wrong with what Zaira Wasim did and there was no need for her to apologise to anyone.

She owes no one an explanation. To each their own karma, judgement day, whatever!

Till then, let there be love, peace, joy and harmony on earth!

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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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.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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