On 16 January, 16-year-old actor of Dangal, Zaira Wasim wrote an apology letter on her Facebook. While the exact cause of why the young acting talent apologised remains unknown, it did incite debates on many platforms.
Many are of the opinion that Zaira Wasim had written this apology fearing a backlash from people in her home state Jammu and Kashmir and militants while there were those who felt that her decision to meet the state chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti, had angered many in the valley.
This first assertion is backed by previous instances from Jammu and Kashmir, for example the backlash faced by the all-girls Kashmiri band, Pragaash. The band was formed in 2012 and consisted of three teenage Muslim girls in Srinagar. However, soon after the band gained recognition they were targeted by death threats and fatwas issued by Grand Mufti of Kashmir.
Two years later, in 2015, Kashmiri schoolgirls were chosen as part of the army’s Operation Sadbhavana to tour across India. After their meeting with President Pranab Mukherjee, they too faced criticism by anti-Indian voices in Kashmir.
On Zaira being in the centre of storm, activist and Secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association, Kavita Krishnan said, “There were some tweets from the valley that were supportive but this has not been highlighted.”
“Women are attacked because they are expected to be the flag bearers of their communities.”
She added, “IAS officer Tina Dabi faced the same attacks by Hindu Mahasabha for marrying a Kashmiri man but this was not highlighted as much by the media. The trolling of Tina was not called “terror” like the trolling of Zaira was”.
Krishnan added that the reason why Zaira’s apology gained considerable media attention is because she is Kashmiri and the film industry is considered Indian.
With respect to the sudden support for Zaira shown by known right-wing leaders, Krishnan said that it was far too early in life for Zaira to bear the burden of nationalism, Indian or Kashmiriyat. And it is wrong for her to be made to represent any side by politicians or to be used to show any nationalist ideologies.
“She should be respected as Zaira Wasim, an actor.”
Speaking to Janta Ka Reporter, former journalist and the chairperson of the State Commission for Women of in Jammu and Kashmir, Nayeema Ahmed Mehjoor said, “I have strongly condemned the trolling of Zaira.”
“People in Kashmir are very proud of Zaira Wasim. I think there are some elements in and outside Kashmir, which don’t want Kashmir to progress.”
She also added, “Kashmir has always been a secular and enlightened society and Kashmiri girls are marching ahead.”
An important point amidst the raging debate is that the male artists from Kashmir, for example, singer Qazi Tauqeer and actor Muzammil Ibrahim have never had to undergo similar backlash.