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India - Kashmir: Sexism and moral policing behind online intimidation of actress Zaira Wasim

17 January 2017

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[Posted below are articles in defence of the Kashmiri actress Zaira Wasim who has come under pressure from fundamentalists and has had to needlessly apologize for the success of a film she has acted in]

The Citizen

"I’m Not Proud Of What I Am Doing": Have Fundamentalists Caged Dangal Girl Zaira Wasim?

by Seema Mustafa

Monday, January 16,2017

NEW DELHI: “I feel very loved, its not about fame, its about love.” These were the happy words from a young pretty Kashmiri girl, Zaira Wasim, flushed with the success of her maiden movie Dangal. These words were followed just a few days later with, “Forgive me, I am just sixteen… I want to apologize to all those people who I have unintentionally hurt. People have been hurt by who I meet.”

Zaira whose twitter page indicates the excitement that followed her success now carries a long apology to those who have clearly protested about her meeting with Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti. Waseem, and her parents who live in Kashmir, met Mufti who embraced the young girls success as indeed a CM should.

Clearly this meeting was followed by a volume of protest, sufficient to scare the parents and the young actor, into issuing an “apology” and a promise not to meet politicians. Zaira also made it clear that while she was being projected as a role model for Kashmiris she “want to make it very clear that I do not want anyone to follow in my footsteps or even consider me as a role model. I’m not proud of what I am doing and I want everyone, expecially the youth to know that there are real role models out there whether they be in this time or our history.”

“To even consider me as a role model would be disgracing them, and their disgrace would be Our Disgrace” said the long tweet that has had responses, also from Kashmiris asking if she had been threatened by anyone. Zaira Wasim removed the tweet shortly after.

This reflects the tragedy that is Kashmir today. Where in the absence of dialogue, young people with their own aspirations are being caught by an uncompromising state on the one side and fundamentalism on the other. Both the state and the fundamentalists, for instance, have ensured that there is not a single functioning movie hall in Srinagar; the first citing security reasons, and the second evoking their version of Islam.

Zaira for whom Dangal was a dream of opportunity responded to the adulation initially with a big smile, and Yayy thank you’s on the social media. A 16 year old she kept her head on her shoulders when asked in an interview whether she was a role model, by saying at that time, that she was sure that the young people who regarded her as such had their own potential and would do even better than her. She has had to change this, under pressure, to maintaining in this social media apology that her achievement is a ‘disgrace.’

This smacks of the fundamentalism that is using the anger and protests in Kashmir against violations of rights and justice, to grow. Hardliners are flexing their muscles, and bringing pressure on not just the young people but their more vulnerable parents and families to conform to what is now being spread at different levels as Islam. Young artists, musicians, even journalists with independent views are feeling the pressure and several confided that the environment by the political impasse is being exploited by fundamentalist hardliners.

Unfortunately the environment is such today---as many have been writing and warning of to a deaf New Delhi---that young girls like Zaira, or like an all womans band earlier are brought under tremendous pressure laced with open threats. The public apology has in fact ensured that the 16 year old goes under cover, and is not able to follow her talent under pressure from those who insist that the creative arts constitute a ‘disgrace’. Unfortunately so vitiated is the environment that while many agreed with this writer, no one was willing to speak on the record. Not even the editor of a state newspaper who was amongst the first to report the news, insisting that he had no idea as he was in Jammu.

A careful persual of her tweets do not reveal overt threats, but there is a tweet from Zaira Wasim on January 10 maintaining that both her Facebook and Twitter accounts had been hacked. There is some commiseration in the responses. Clearly the pressure has been felt off the social media, with women in Kashmir facing considerable oppression in an increasingly oppressed system. Unfortunately, despite reports of women suffering from increased domestic violence, and severe depression CM Mufti has not even bothered to deal with even these basic issues by meeting the shortfall of doctors and medicines. Suicidal tendencies in women have been recorded by the few groups that do work in the Valley with women, but the government response remains that of indifference.,

Zaira Wasim, too young to know how to cope with this pressure from a Valley where the fundamentalists are clearly gaining control, has issued this public apology that is heart rending. In the past the young all girl musical group had to disband the minute it was noticed, with the young girls allowed no room to sing their hearts out.

A young rapper who tried to bring his talent into other parts of India was named in a sedition case for singing little more than “I am a rebel” in Bangalore and returned to Kashmir facing the pressure from right wing forces, just as Zaira Wasim and other young girls in Kashmir have had to give up their aspirations and their talent under pressure from local right wingers. The only difference being that both pressure groups are from two different communities working in tandem though, to ensure that the democratic space is shrunk beyond recognition in the name of ‘nationalism’ and ‘azadi’, both doused in a heavy dose of (different) religions.

o o o - 17 January 2017

Trolling of actress Zaira Wasim reminds young Kashmiris of the limits of their social freedoms

by Rayan Naqash

The online abuse of the Dangal star exposes the Valley’s sexism and conservatism, teenagers complain.

The abuse began a few months ago, soon after images began to appear on Facebook of 16-year-old Kashmiri actor Zaira Wasim with her hair trimmed, as she prepared for a role as a young wrestler in the Aamir Khan starrer Dangal. Internet trolls in the conservative Kashmir valley, where Islamic militants in the early 1990s forced cinema halls to shut, questioned the teenager’s moral character for acting in a hit film.

The trolling grew stronger on late Saturday evening, after pictures were released of the teenaged actress meeting with Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, who described her as a “Kashmiri role model”.

“Cursed girl”, declared one Instagram user from the Valley. Added another, “Payi se trath” – may you get hit by lightning.

Hoping to calm down the abusers, Wasim on Monday posted a public “confession/apology”, as she described it, on Facebook, copying a screenshot to Instagram. “...I want everyone, especially the young, to know that there are real role models out there whether they be in this time or history.” she wrote. “To even consider me as a role model would be disgracing them and their disgrace would be our disgrace.”

However, this only fuelled the controversy, as her message was picked up by news websites and television channels.

Within hours, Wasim deleted her post and issued another message asking the media not to “blow this out of proportion”. She wrote: “Regarding my last post, I have no idea why this has become such a big issue. I just wanted to make sure that I did not hurt anyone’s feelings and all of a sudden it has been turned into national news.” Shortly after, this message was deleted, too.

A stark reminder

The controversy has left teenagers in the Valley disconcerted. To many, it has been a saddening reminder of the social constraints under which they operate – something that is quite contrary to the message on the film in which Wasim has acted, which celebrates the efforts of two girls in tradition-bound Haryana to become world-class wrestlers.

“I didn’t watch the movie but I know she didn’t do anything wrong,” said Shayan Nazir, a friend of Wasim’s, who appeared for his 12th Standard exams last year. “She did not do anything vulgar or wrong.”

He added: “What is bad if someone wants to do something, why can’t you do something? Why can’t you have the freedom?”

A 17-year-old Srinagar, who requested anonymity for fear of inviting abuse upon herself, said that Wasim had nothing to apologise for since she had not done anything wrong. “Whatever she did was of her own choice and was in her control and I don’t think she was pressurised to do anything,” this teenager said.

A Class 12 student named Suha Ismail also said that while there was no need for Wasim to have expressed contrition, she quite understood her gesture. “If I had been in her place I too would have done the same because we all understand the societal pressures when a girl decides to choose any unconventional career,” she said.

Ismail added: “It’s weird how people are thanking her for posting the apology as if they were waiting for it. I think it is time to separate politics from everything because this becomes a reason why we always remain afraid to take any bold decisions.”
A precedent

To many young Kashmiris, the abuse heaped upon Wasim is a reminder of the campaign in 2013 against a girl band named Pragash. The three Class 10 students – vocalist-guitarist Noma Nazir, drummer Farah Deeba and guitarist Aneeka Khalid – had to disband their group after a string of online abuse and eventually a fatwa issued against them by the state’s grand mufti. While the girls apologised, no action was taken against their abusers.

“They showed their talent but then stopped making videos because of the threats they received from Kashmiri people and especially Ulemas” or religious scholars, said the 17-year-old Srinagar resident. “I think Zaira Wasim must be going through the same situation and this is why she is trying to say all this.”

Two years later, in 2015, Kashmiri schoolgirls chosen to tour India as part of the army’s Operation Sadbhavna were targeted by trolls after the release of photos their meeting with President Pranab Mukherjee. Even then, the character of the girls was questioned.

“Girls are soft targets,” complained a 23-year-old female engineering student. “In the past men, too, have worked in Bollywood but they have never been made targets.”

Added 23-year-old student Adam Khaleef: “I think it’s as unfair as it can get. Had it been a Kashmiri boy, they would have praised him and turned him into another Qazi Tauqeer” – who won the prime-time reality show Fame Gurukul in 2005.

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The above articles from The Scroll & The Citizen are reproduced here for educational and non commercial use