“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.
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.
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!