Zaira Wasim Khan became an overnight sensation because of her portrayal of a young Geeta Phogat in Dangal. The 16-year old left us in awe with her wrestling and acting chops, her impeccable Haryanvi accent, and her innocent face. In our curiosity to find out more about this girl, we dug out a ‘hidden secret’.
We discovered she is from Kashmir — the place we talk about only when there are militants being killed, the place where ISIS flags and Pakistani flags can be spotted during times of unrest, where stones are pelted at the otherwise revered Indian Army, where pellet guns leave people blind, where curfews are imposed regularly, where schools are burned down, where calls of Azaadi doesn’t attract sedition.
So, now when we find something even slightly normal, like a talented young actor making her mark in Bollywood, we go all crazy in portraying her as a role model for the youth of the strife-torn state. As if Zaira’s presence in a film like Dangal — which gives us all the patriotic feels with the national anthem being sung and the national flag being hoisted — for once and all ends the separatist movement in the state. As if her agreeing to be part of the pan-India Bollywood automatically represents the aspirations of thousands of youth who regularly go out and pelt stones at the Indian Army.
The burden of being a representative of a state known for political struggles and cross-border terrorism is too much for a 16-year old to carry. So she finally apologises for something that’s not even her fault. Zaira posted a public apology on her social media accounts days after meeting Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti.
First, read her apology post on Facebook and try figure why exactly she had to apologise. We have added our comments in brackets to put things into context for you:
This is an open confession/apology. I know that many people have been offended and displeased by my recent actions or by the people I have recently met. (she met Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti recently.)
I want to apologise to all those people who I’ve unintentionally hurt and I want them to know that I understand their sentiments behind it especially considering that what had happened over the past 6 months (the unrest in Kashmir following Hizbul commander Burhan Wani’s killing and pellet injuries there) but I hope people can also understand there are certain circumstances that emerge which one cannot control and I hope people still 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.
There are few more things which are very important and I want to clear them as well. The first and foremost thing is that I am being projected as a role model for Kashmiri Youth. I want to make it very clear that I do not want anyone to follow in my foot steps or even consider me as a role model. I’m not proud of what I’m doing and I want everyone, especially the Youth to know that there are real role models out there whether they be in this time or in our history.
To even consider me as a role model would be disgracing them and their disgrace would be OUR DISGRACE! I do not wish to start an argument here, this was a just a mere confession from my end which I really wanted people to know. May Allah bless us and guide us. ❤️
After her meeting with Mebhooba Mufti, her office released a handout, stating the following:
A pretty innocuous statement, isn’t it? But we miss a few finer points here. Even at this meeting, Zaira was carrying the burden of being a ‘normal’ representative of the otherwise angry youth of the state. The image of her sitting with Mufti, sends out a strong political message or it seems so that the youth of Kashmir is open to meeting Mufti, who is currently at the receiving of public anger in the aftermath of the Kashmir unrest.
Unknowingly, Zaira got embroiled in the politics of the state. It is sad that despite being the terrific actor she is she had to say: “I am not proud of what I am doing. Don’t make me a role model.” That she was bullied for being “un-Islamic” is another matter altogether. However, that doesn’t seem to be the reason which moved her to go on Facebook and pour her heart out. She was apparently saddened by a particular picture with the chief minister in which she was pitted against Insha Mushtaq, a girl blinded by pellets during the Kashmir unrest.
This has always been the dilemma of all Kashmiri achievers. While Zaira Wasim faced the wrath of a section of Kashmiri Muslims, Shah Faesal, the first Kashmiri to top civil services was treated like a prop by the Indian media of what a good Kashmiri should be like. He was pitted against Burhan Wani by the Indian media when the Kashmir unrest was at its peak. The civil servant had to threaten to resign. In an angry Facebook post he wrote: “Have I joined IAS to do a job or to become a part of your sadistic propaganda machine?”
An excerpt from the post:
By juxtaposing my photos with the images of a slain militant commander, a section of national media has once again fallen back upon its conventional savagery that cashes on falsehoods, divides people and creates more hatred. At a moment when Kashmir is mourning its dead, the propaganda and provocation being dished out from red and blue newsrooms is breeding more alienation and anger in Kashmir than what Indian state can manage. Personal vulnerability apart, the very fact of becoming a part of a ridiculous debate is something which has disturbed me very much.
This is what irked him:
The Indian media is so obsessed with this hunt for good Kashmiris is that they don’t even spare an eight-year-old. When Tajamul Islam, an eight-year-old struck gold and became the world sub-junior kickboxing champion in Italy, again the channels resorted to their old tricks. They flashed her pictures with that of Burhan Wani. The little genius dedicated her award first to India, then to her coach. There was no reason for any channel to compare her with anyone who she is better off not knowing.
Coming back to Zaira, for now, she wants to be left alone and just like Faesal she wants to be released off this burden of being a representative of the Kashmiri youth. Clearly, the Indian media has no respect for her appeal and is blowing the issue out of proportion. In fact, some channels flashed claims about her facing some kind of threat from separatists, while there is no evidence to buttress this. Zaira has repeatedly said she is under no pressure from anyone.
Interestingly, her next film is Secret Superstar. It is also produced by Aamir Khan. She plays an aspiring musician fighting with an orthodox Muslim father. Eventually, she becomes a Youtube sensation sans name and her face hidden in a burqa, in the film. Remember, how in 2013, conservatives began a hate-campaign against the all-girls Kashmiri band Praagash and they were traumatised?
(A still from Secret Superstar)
The Praagash girls had to eventually disband their band. We should let Zaira’s work to speak for itself. She is not only talented but a brave artist at the same time. We need not make her vulnerable to threats by glorifying her Kashmiri background. In fact, if we at all want our next generation of Kashmiri achievers to shine and overcome the baggage of violence, we need to be a little more protective towards them and stop resorting to the cheap tricks of treating them like a trophy or stamp of India’s rightful claim over Kashmir.
If you watch her interviews, you would realise, she is any day more articulate than any of the current Bollywood actresses.
We need not make her vulnerable to threats by glorifying her Kashmiri background. In fact, if we at all want our next generation of Kashmiri achievers to shine and overcome the baggage of violence, we need to be a little more protective towards them and stop resorting to the cheap tricks of treating them like a trophy or stamp of India’s rightful claim over Kashmir.
Watch this video discussion by inuth team on the issue: (Disclaimer: Based on television tickers being flashed at that point of time, we quoted them to say that Zaira had received threats from separatists. Later our reporter tried verifying these reports and we understand that these claims cannot be substantiated.)