A week ago the Khalid Bajwa sexual harassment scandal divided public opinion as to the narrative of perpetrators in powerful positions. Some stood by Bajwa, and in turn indulged in some timeless victim shaming. Other’s supported the victims and highlighted the need for rendering an active ear to people coming out against harassers and exposing them. Today, an even more critical case emerged with actor/singer Meesha Shafi leveling allegations against actor/singer Ali Zafar.
Sharing this because I believe that by speaking out about my own experience of sexual harassment, I will break the culture of silence that permeates through our society. It is not easy to speak out.. but it is harder to stay silent. My conscience will not allow it anymore #MeToo pic.twitter.com/iwex7e1NLZ
— Meesha Shafi (@itsmeeshashafi) April 19, 2018
She refers to the #MeToo campaign and how speaking up is crucial to breaking the existing culture of how victims suffer in silence. Meesha has used her platform to step forward in what is being considered a bold step by many.
— Ali Zafar (@AliZafarsays) April 19, 2018
Ali has denied all allegations and says he will take the matter to court instead of making a public debacle out of the situation.
This is being cited as the first incidence where a singer from the industry is making claims against another peer. The power dynamics of both being from a similar position in the industry, at least in terms of the profession, holds true. Both Meesha and Ali have been part of the Coke Studio franchise. Both also have successful careers as actors and singers. The relative success is not of concern here because if the media industry was to be categorized into different levels of success, Meesha and Ali would still be amongst the top names. For those calling this a publicity stunt, one has to logically question what Meesha will get out of it by lying about such a sensitive topic. That too, with the knowledge that the victim is more often scrutinized than the perpetrator and so she might have more to lose than gain in this situation.
There are various layers of power dynamics that have to do with a gendered media industry. And, this is an irrefutable point. Irrespective of how things go in the court of law, it is important to note that Meesha using her platform is likely to encourage sexual harassment victims to speak out against their perpetrators. This might help initiate our own #MeToo movement. The culture as Meesha points out, surely needs to change. The key takeaway, for now, from her speaking up is to overturn the narrative of victim shaming. As social media trolls so often do, it is crucial not to subject this important case to mindless tweets in which name-calling is the norm.
The point for the public eye is to be more mindful in not making insensitive jokes about either party. As Ali Zafar himself pointed out, he will be taking the matter to court. Which is perhaps the right place to handle this case. This is not to say that the public shouldn’t get involved at all or that it has no right to information. Rather, saying so is an appeal to be involved more mindfully. Acting within reasonable limits and exercising rationality not just in this case but in many other instances of sexual harassment that are cropping up over social media, is of paramount importance. And, as the story develops let’s above all be more respectful towards victims; careless jokes can trigger other victims who are suffering in silence. So before resorting to trolling, know that a high profile case like this doesn’t exist in isolation. It brings with it great social responsibility in terms of swaying public opinion.