'It is wrong to attribute everything to religion'
Columnist weighs in on the debate about actor Zaira Wasim quitting films, calling her a victim of a narrow interpretation of faith
A day after young actor Zaira Wasim announced via a social media post that she was quitting acting, her decision continues to ignite debate. Given her celebrity status, the fact that she is a woman, a Muslim, a Kashmiri and an actor, plus of course that she has linked her decision to her faith, the reactions are not surprising.
Her decision is shocking and I think Zaira Wasim must be under a lot of pressure socially. It is wrong to attribute everything to religion and prevent people from realising their potential. Religion calls for application of mind before any action. Acting is a profession, like any other and everybody has a right to make an honest living.
I think Zaira has become victim of a narrow interpretation of the faith. How can one's Creator deny somebody their rightful place beneath the sun? In fact, the Muslim religion says that man and woman will be equally rewarded for their labour. To think that art or entertainment is not allowed in Islam is a total misinterpretation. There is beauty in the performing arts and where there is beauty, there is God.
I do not know if a life in the spotlight has taken its toll. Social media can be a brutal, bruising medium and women, especially are subjected to heavy trolling if they dare to defy convention and go out of the little boxes that a parochial, patriarchal society imposes on them. For instance, the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA) that fights for equality is at the receiving end of so much trolling as some gender equality battles have put it in the limelight. I, as co-founder of BMMA, face comments like I am an RSS agent, as I am married to a Hindu man. That is the nature of abuse, vicious and extremely personal.
Though Zaira may live here, in Mumbai or elsewhere, she is Kashmiri, her roots are in Kashmir, her family is based there. I cannot speak for her, with respect to the phone calls her family may be getting or any kind of harassment from hardliners, since I do not know but it is a possibility. On that count maybe, we have to be sympathetic to famous Kashmiris who at times inadvertently become a symbol of their turmoil-ridden state. When a young Kashmiri girl like Zaira becomes successful in an extremely visible profession, it can make radicals and extremists uncomfortable as they might feel their fight is weakened by it.
Finally, I must come to Bollywood and Muslims, since Zaira Wasim has spoken about faith and religion. The film industry has so many Muslim men and women. Look at Shabana Azmi for instance. What about the slew of Muslim women, all top stars decades earlier like Meena Kumari, Madhubala, Shakila, Suraiya, Waheeda Rehman, in fact so many others. I did not see any conflict then. Zaira Wasim may have brought down the curtains on her career, but the irony of her real life and her movie Secret Superstar (Zaira plays protagonist in the film, a young girl who aspires to become a singer. She faces stiff opposition from her family, so she hides her identity under a niqab) is not lost on me.
As told to Hemal Ashar
Zakia Soman is co-founder of Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA), a gender equality rights body
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