OpEd: The curious case of 'Meesha Shafi'

OpEd: The curious case of 'Meesha Shafi'

ISLAMABAD - Sexual harassment, gender inequality and patriarchy are evident realities of our society and must be fought valiantly.

The case, however, of Meesha Shafi vs Ali Zafar deserves to be looked at in a different light. This is a case of a woman and a man that are empowered, well respected and colleagues themselves. This is a case of two equals and therefore cannot possibly be talked about and discussed in the same narrative as other sinister and harrowing cases of sexual harassment where the abuse of power, gender and stature play a huge part. We, in fact, must also assess the effect this allegation may have on Pakistan’s fight for the equal treatment of women, in another article.

Let’s first walk through the series of recent events: Meesha Shafi accused Ali Zafar of physical harassment on more than one occasion, in her tweet on the 19th of April. In a subsequent interview, she alleges the second time she was harassed was at a jam session for a show that the two were engaged with. After this tweet, the same day and some few hours later, Ali Zafar denies all allegations and confirms that he will be taking this allegation through the courts of law. On April 25th Meesha’s lawyer, Pansota, on Twitter no less, confirms a legal notice for defamation has been received. The legal team has not yet responded to this notice.

In the meantime, several public statements appeared which served to discredit Meesha Shafi’s claims. Her former manager, Fahad Rehman claimed his experience with her included ‘blackmail’; two women part of the band at the jam session where the alleged harassment was said to take place came out as witnesses. Of course, feminists declared them to be invalid by virtue of the fact that they were Zafar’s backing singers and, therefore, must have been paid off to claim otherwise – a great case of women ganging up on other women just to prove a point. Then, a former theatre colleague, Talia Mirza wrote a public note on Facebook claiming that she had been bullied and Shafi had slut shamed other women. She also said that Meesha’s brother, Faris Shafi, also a public figure, had put women in uncomfortable situations in the past including herself. It is interesting to note that none of the feminist groups in support of Meesha have investigated or addressed these claims. It is very serious that the lady being celebrated as the face and voice of #MeToo in Pakistan has herself been accused of being a bully to other women and men and whose own brother has been called out for sexual harassment. We urge Meesha Shafi and Pakistan’s feminists to come forward and address this case.

Shafi, according to public records, has had an FIR filed against her some years back. Why is none of this being documented and talked about?

It is also important not to dismiss the pictures of Shafi and Zafar together simply as misogynistic media trying to portray her negatively. Put aside any questions on attire for a minute. Is it not to be questioned why Shafi continued to meet Zafar at his house, at public events and private parties despite being harassed by him on multiple occasions? And even why she chose to publically post about those interactions on her own social media? These are interactions which she has visibly removed recently. You cannot equate this to a power dynamic whereby she ‘needed’ to interact with him and talk about him for the sake of her career or business after all, which is what she implies in an interview she gave to a newspaper when asked. It was a choice she made. Why should one dismiss these pictures and agree that questioning her interactions with Zafar during this period of alleged harassment is unfair and anti-feminist? No one is claiming that she is lying. Instead, we are suggesting an analytical discussion on what truly constitutes harassment, whether her specific case was harassment, and why if she felt unsafe and harassed did she repeatedly choose to put herself in those situations and document them publically. This is a question only the courts of law can find the answer to and for that reason, we respect Zafar’s decision to go to court.

If closed door discussion between the old and the new feminist schools are to be believed, there has been support for Meesha becoming the target of the media venom, but not for her public stance that she took against Ali Zafar. There has been talk of how Shafi may have belittled a very important issue by choosing to speak out on social media, instead of seeking formal recourse, how she has been seeking international validation through her subsequent tweets to international bodies, and equally how her lawyer Pansota has been appearing on every TV channel in an attempt to make himself a television star. There has also been talk about how women writing out in support of Shafi, are themselves friends with, married to or in partnerships with well-known abusers of the law. Shafi herself, according to public records, has had an FIR filed against her some years back. This was by her very own family members and famous musician, Farhad Hamayun. Why is none of this being documented and talked about? Why is there a concerted effort to paint Meesha Shafi as a spotless wonder woman when just like us all, she too has several skeletons in her closet, and those should mean something in the context of this case. If we can all say, “Oh! Everyone knows Ali Zafar was a womanizer”, then in the same breath we should also say, ‘Oh! Everyone knows Meesha isn’t very straightforward either.”

What we are suggesting is an analytical discussion on what truly constitutes harassment, whether or not her specific case was harassment

Let’s go in to this with open eyes. If women and men want equality, then women too need to view this case with a sense of equality. Empowerment does not mean we avert our proverbial gaze to some hard truths and slam anyone who chooses to question Shafi over her claims. Isn’t that an abuse of power?

Actor Aditi Rao Hydari in support of the #MeToo campaign, just recently posted a statement on her Twitter, saying that while men have a responsibility towards women, the latter have an equal responsibility in bringing about a “change”. Aditi’s post came in response to producer Tanuj Garg’s tweet: “The honourable #Metoo campaign by the lovely Rose McGowan is getting misused by some women for personal benefit. Belated, mischievous and unproven defamatory rants masquerading as woman empowerment, have spoilt it for the genuine victims of harassment. #MeeshaShafi #AliZafar #Pakistan.”

Also, in a community petition on Avaaz that kick-started on May 1 and called out to users to sign off their voice for the preliminary, the appeal requested that the #MeToo movement be called out for “transparency, a structural framework to avoid abuse and remain free from any political or personal vendettas.” Because, with all such great movements, comes great responsibility. This is the kind of responsibility to be part and parcel of a narrative that is not so easily abused, manipulated for advantage, or used to further personal bias and feed purported feminist claims.

By: Raima Khan