Do Meesha Shafi’s allegations hold no value just because Ali Zafar “looks like a decent guy”?

Published: April 23, 2018
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Meesha Shafi accused Ali Zafar of sexual harassment, explicitly mentioning she faced ‘sexual harassment of a physical nature’.

I remember spending a whole day during school trying to convince my friend how good-looking this new singer was. She disagreed. But as an 11-year-old, I was very persistent, because not only was he good-looking, he was also ordinary. A boy who spent his days making portraits of others at a hotel lobby, who then suddenly went on to be known as Pakistan’s very own Kishore Kumar. But she still disagreed. So I convinced myself that since she was not a Pakistani, she knew little about the country’s beauty.

But that was 2003, and today is a different story.

Fifteen years later, Meesha Shafi accused Ali Zafar of sexual harassment, explicitly mentioning she faced ‘sexual harassment of a physical nature’.

In those words, she ruled out the possibility of what many would say ‘flirting gone wrong’, because as a nation deprived of a casual dating culture, we are naïve enough to believe flirting is anything but consensual. Within seconds of Shafi posting her statement on social media, all the Twitter-friendly educated class could talk about was the allegation.

A colleague of mine showed me Shafi’s tweet while commenting,

“Well, I guess she needed the publicity.”

Perhaps releasing another song wouldn’t have done the trick. Another friend was genuinely shocked because Zafar looked like a ‘decent’ guy.

But here’s the thing about harassers, most look decent. Most belong to decent families, and as Zafar stated in his statement, they are all a son to a mother, a brother to a sister, a father to a daughter or a husband to a wife.

So why is it so hard to believe Zafar could harass?

One out of four women in Pakistan has faced harassment at some point in her life. Ninety per cent of women face harassment on public transport, with 82% at bus stops in the city of Lahore alone. Ninety per cent of the complaints made to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) on cyber harassment in first quarter of 2018 were by women.

This means one in four men in Pakistan has harassed a woman at some point in his life. Ninety per cent of our men harass women on public transport, and 82% at bus stops in the city of Lahore. Ninety per cent of the complaints were made against men for harassing women online this year alone. And one in four men means out of approximately 106 million men in Pakistan, roughly 26,612,330 are harassers. If they are supposedly not men like Zafar, then where do they come from?

On the other hand, people know where Shafi comes from. She is from the entertainment industry, and wears ‘indecent’ clothing, sits next to men, and also has a picture with her alleged harasser. So she can’t be harassed. A hug here and a touch there is ‘acceptable’ in her industry. Because she once shared a stage with her alleged harasser, she has no right to call him out now. And what should she be calling him out for – there is no harassment.

Zafar isn’t a harasser because his co-star Maya Ali saw him FaceTime with his wife and kids on a regular basis while shooting with him. Resham spent years working with him and was never harassed. The women in the room where the alleged incident took place didn’t see any discomfort on Shafi’s face, almost how the women who are ogled at on a daily basis reveal no discomfort.

I’m not here to say who is wrong and who is right or who did what and who didn’t… Let’s say, I haven’t known him for long, but I have been working with him since 1 year, we shot our film in Lahore and then we were all together in Poland to shoot the rest of the film and I never ever got any kind of that vibe from him… I always found him talking to his wife and kids on FaceTime and this made me a fan of him, because he would always share his good and bad moments with his wife and family… When we were on set or in any restaurant with the whole team he would always make sure that he was sharing these moments with her… I am not judging anyone nor giving any clarification on anyone’s behalf, and we can’t judge the one side of a book… I respect this man @ali_zafar and want the truth to come out, until then we shouldn’t judge anyone’s character…🙏🏻🙏🏻

A post shared by Maya Ali (@official_mayaali) on

So as the stories taking turn every minute regard Ali Zafar, MeeshaShafi &#metoo movement, I think as a musician and a woman I should talk about this issue as I was SHOCKED 😮 right now with this article of Meesha. She said that her conscious doesn’t allow her to say quiet so mine also doesn’t allow me. As I am the part of concert crew, I travel intl and locally with Ali Zafar, and I have seen girls throwing themselves at him and his gentlemanly response to that which is so rare of any rockstar.  balkay we all travel like friends and we work in a very comfy environment. Today finally Meesha tells us what she says  happened to her that Ali harassed her at a jam or did something wrong to her and I cannot stay quiet. I was at this jam session becoz I sing in Ali’s band and so was her manager and our entire band. I am astonished that she would take a lie to this level which so many of us can prove wrong. We all have pictures, we were there and event manager was there and it was a gr8 jam session. I am a woman and I would never allow wrong to any woman. But come on , it's a serious matter and we should be really clear on everything rather then putting accusations on people and then saying sorry you cannot question any woman it’s wrong. Ali is a genuine person, who treats people around him nicely and has always been a support system for everyone;  Accusing some1 is easy but living with the guilt is difficult. As a woman I felt sad with her rude behaviour towards everyone including the band but more I feel bad that she’s causing disrespect to this Intl movement of women and all of us female musicians and hard working women.

A post shared by aqsaali.official (@imaqsa.ali) on

I have been working with Ali Zafar on and off since the past 3 years or so and up until now I’ve been quietly observing the current situation because I am no judge of personal character be it Meesha Shafi or Ali Zafar. However, I stand witness to this particular ‘Jam’ late last year that Meesha mentions in her interview with The News. The whole house band along with myself and another fellow female vocalist were present during this session and whatever interaction took place between the two was in front of at least 10 other people. All I can say is that this particular statement that she makes here is rather odd. I have toured with the Ali Zafar band a lot of times and all my trips have been really pleasant and professional and we’ve spent hours jamming together. It would be great if this important movement isn’t taken for granted or misused for personal reasons stealing limelight from real causes. Rest, time will tell!!

A post shared by Kanza Munir (@kanzamunir) on

Shafi doesn’t have the bruises to show. No proof or evidence. Just her word, against his.

Just like the words of every single woman I know who has been made to feel uncomfortable by a man. Every single one of them. Let that sink in, because if you pay attention and listen, every woman you know has stories. If that is easy to believe, why is it any harder to believe perhaps every man you know has made a woman feel uncomfortable at some point in his life?

The patriarchs of our families – fathers, brothers and husbands – often ask women they are related to to ‘stay safe’; some not letting them go out at a certain time or to a certain place because they don’t consider them to be an exception, irrespective of what they are wearing or where they are. They do fear these women can be harassed, so why are the ‘Alis’ in our lives the exception to the rule?

Harassment is a broad term – making a woman feel uncomfortable by ogling or eve teasing constitutes as harassment, and not every form of harassment necessarily has to be physical in nature. And Shafi allegedly experienced just that.

It takes a lot more than just acceptance to come out and talk about harassment you have faced – whether you are a man or a woman – let alone mentioning the name of your harasser even in closed quarters. Keeping aside the fear of ostracisation, analysing what has happened and accepting it takes time; sometimes even years.

Most women are quick to shun it away – like Shafi did the first time it happened. They repeatedly question themselves if it even happened, whether the man even meant it, or whether it was something they only ‘thought’ occurred. Our conditioning makes us give our harassers the benefit of the doubt – a privilege only men are allowed, because a woman is often ‘a person trying to malign a man’.

Apparently, there are reports that women have made allegations for their own benefit, and for Shafi, it was supposedly fame, publicity or attention. Only 2% of the reported cases are proven to be false accusations, and we love our 2%. So Shafi will just have to wait and trust the very due process put in place by privileged men to protect their own.

Once women are done questioning, analysing and accepting, more often than not they refuse to name their harasser or confront them. Because are men not violent? Have they not thrown acid, shot or raped women who dared to call them out? So if women were not an exception, then what should make them think they would be now? But Shafi thinks she is.

She called out that ‘creep’ in her life, the one almost every woman has. Lurking at her on streets; sitting too close for comfort in universities; touching her occasionally in offices; sending messages to her on social media, or living with her in her house.

That ‘creep’ – a word often downplaying harassment – is everywhere. In your mother’s life, in your sister’s life, in your wife’s life. So why can’t that creep (read: harasser) be your brother, father or husband? They are considered the exception to the rule, because those harassers are the ‘other’ men. Even though the victims are our very own, the harassers are not like Zafar. But then where do they come from?

As for that 11-year-old, today she stands with Shafi, because she knows how it feels when somebody’s body is violated without their consent.

Nisma Chauhan

Nisma Chauhan

The author is a journalist by profession. A shopaholic, feminist, fashionista and animal lover by nature. She tweets as @ChauhanNisma (twitter.com/ChauhanNisma)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Farhan

    Too many young women seem want society to accept accusations as verdicts. This is exactly how blasphemy law works in Pakistan.

    There is an immense campaign by many female opinion makers to shift the narrative in favor of the accuser without realizing that by bypassing due process and the principle of “innocent till proven guilty” they are creating an environment where anyone can destroy another’s reputation/public profile or career on an accusation. How would these ladies react if Ali Zafar would have been the first to accuse Meesha of “immoral behaviour” or “loose character”?Recommend

  • Narcisse

    No, Ma’m. It is his word over her alright. But the reason Meesha Shafi’s allegations hold no value is because she is the accuser and the burden of proof lies with her.

    There’s a certain principle called ‘not guilty unless proven’. So, really it isn’t Ali Zafar’s responsibility to dig up all proof to prove that he did not ‘harass’ her. It is Meesha Shaafi’s responsibility to do so.

    This is where the paradox lies, in my opinion. Yes, there will be true cases in which the victim party doesn’t have proof regarding harassment etc. The crime may be true, but is it to be believed that the person harassed her just because he was in a room alone with her? What if the woman is just making up the crime due to revenge or something? And don’t tell me this isn’t possible because of a woman’s honor or something because it has been done so several times in the past.

    What if two people were romantically attracted to each other? Perhaps had an affair. But the woman had a change of heart, felt guilty, and went back on the man and then accussed him of harassment and rape.Recommend

  • DesiMunda

    A good article by Nisma Chauhan.
    Men often, including my yesteryears, would instinctually blame a woman for leading a man on. Even though so many of those “alleged” cases may be true, yet one can not deny that a woman’s chastity gives her the right, before the man claims his, that even if she led him on he has no rights to her body unless directly invoked. Thence he becomes “a harasser”.Recommend

  • Hanntyhair

    Pakistani men are terrified by strong Pakistani women ? They are changing the balance and the male gender does not like it! They first attacked Sharmeen Chinoy then Malala & now Meesha. They blame the West, India and the aliens on mars to defame the women. They edit Youtube videos to make their point and yet Pakistani women are not afraid they are speaking out in droves & have decided they refuse to take it any more!Recommend

  • Uzair Abbas

    #metoo for guys as well. Guys TOO are sexually harassed and society makes it too shameful for them to come forward.Recommend

  • Karachitte

    I am not against your idea but I am rather surprised at the misrepresentation of data. Despite sharing source, it is grossly overstated. It’s not one woman in four, it’s one woman in four of URBAN areas. Only 11% rural women claimed they were followed and Urban is about one-third of Pakistan. Which means the way you represented data is completely out of proportion. Similarly the 90% cases reported to FIA for cyber harassment was for Lahore alone, not the whole country. This means your whole calculation to prove a quarter of male population as harassers is, essentially, false. Why would you ruin a whole argument by misrepresenting facts?Recommend

  • Alinnna

    I have seen alizafar trying to harass and grope girls in Bagatelle dubai .He is disgustingRecommend

  • shahid

    This is all a distraction, casting couch is a reality.

    A lot of women in this dirty profession would have had to go through far worse things then Meesha is accusing AZ of yet the real victims of harassment and women who have actually been blackmailed or had to get laid to secure roles in ads, drama serials, movies or any sort of projects would never come forward because its still a taboo in our society.

    Meesha is established and perhaps has got nothing to lose therefore is just abusing the movement which is actually meant to expose the Weinstein’s and serial harassers of the entertainment industry but I am certain that will never happen, women will protect their and their family’s honor and would never speak out in public about casting couches or the constant harassment they have to face from influentials, ever!Recommend

  • fae

    thats because men are always told to suppress their emotions (e.g. telling boys that crying is a girly thing), and this view is enforced by other men so how would they be taken seriously when they come forward with allegation? Oh wait, i forgot men in pakistan are thirsty and would die to get even a little action so they would love to be “harassed” by a woman. So if you do accuse a woman, then all your gonna get is a “well done!” and a pat on the back by ur male peers, and thats your fault because you all wanna be hyper masculine freaksRecommend