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Zaira Deserves Freedom from All Burdens

It is nauseatingly disturbing that Zaira Wasim, a 16-year-old Kashmiri actor who shot to fame by virtue of her inspirational work in Aamir Khan-starrer movie Dangal, has to endure all this mess.

A section of people is unnecessarily putting a burden of Kashmir’s dominant political ideology on her young shoulders. The state government is appropriating her success for props, photo ops, and narrative propaganda, while the large sections of electronic and print media — based in Noida, New Delhi and Mumbai — are using her individual glory for generating TRPs and online traffic.

How unjust and cruel is this?

Besides, the talented young actress is also a victim of online vitriol, cyber bullying and some moral policing from a handful of trolls who are present in every society. A racist remark — “ape in heels” — was used for Michelle Obama by Pamela Ramsey Taylor on Facebook last year. Didn’t we witness people being mob-lynched on suspicion of eating or storing beef in mainland India?

Trolling or cyber bullying in any form is deplorable. It is not Kashmir-specific, though. It is rather a global phenomenon. Also, it is a different debate altogether: how to deal with this menace — whether to ignore trolls or take them head on?

It is equally true that misogyny in one or the other form also exists in Kashmir as it does in other parts of the globe. Unfortunately, the first all-girls Kashmiri rock band Pragaash meaning “from darkness to light” had to quit in 2012, partly due to a fatwa issued by a government appointed cleric (Mufti ) against music, and partly because of the vitriolic commentary and abuse the girls received on social media space from faceless trolls.

That said, it is infuriating how the Indian media delivers fatwas (edicts) on the Kashmir society from air-conditioned studios without caring to understand the context of Zaira Wasim episode, and historicity and various complexities involved in the Kashmir conflict.

A few trolls, some of them teenagers, cannot be a reflection of Kashmir society. Who gives media channels a right to brand Kashmir as “radicalised, regressive, fanatic, or, a jihadi hotspot” or suggest that “Kashmir is slipping back to dark ages”? Much to the chagrin of the media channels, there is no struggle between modernity and regression in Kashmir.

Neither Zaira Wasim’s act in Dangal nor cricketer Parveez Rasool’s performance in the cash-rich IPL will change the fact that Kashmiris crave for a political solution to Kashmir dispute. No matter what, the individual success stories in any field cannot alter the ground reality in Kashmir. At the same time, no one has the right to impose any ideology or narrative on individuals. People should be free enough to live their dreams.

Let us face a simple fact: most people in the Kashmir Valley are proud of Zaira Wasim’s feat. They have nothing against her as an actor or her career choice. Except for a few, she was not criticised for acting in the movie. It was only after her meeting with Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti that some people got annoyed. Not that meeting a Chief Minister is a crime, but Mehbooba Mufti is seen as someone who did not seem to care about the recent civilian killings in Kashmir during intense strife and record breaking curfewed days and nights. Anger was directed at Mehbooba, not Zaira.

A strong perception exists in the Valley that the present coalition government of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is responsible for over 100 civilian killings and partial or complete blinding of over 1,100 people, mostly children, during the civilian uprising that lasted for nearly five months. Therefore, most are of the view that the state loses the moral right to appropriate Zaira’s accomplishment.

The problem arises when the Indian liberals class is comatose and acts as a mute spectator on blinding of Insha, but suddenly wakes up from slumber to speak up for Zaira. Why don’t their ‘bleeding hearts’ bleed when Insha is blinded by the pellets fired at her; a young lecturer, Shabir, is mercilessly tortured to death in south Kashmir by the army; and a poor ATM security guard, Riyaz, is killed by the pellets fired at him by the paramilitary CRPF stationed in Srinagar? It is because of their criminal silence on Inshas, Shabirs and Riyazs that their outrage on Zaira is perceived as hollow surgical strikes on the Kashmiri society!

Yes, the problem arises when there are no television debates on Kashmiri girls like Insha, who was blinded by lethal pellets fired at her by government forces, when she was not even part of any protest demonstration!

People in Kashmir are happy that their star cricketer Parveez Rasool has made it big for himself. Cricket lovers in the Valley stay glued to their television screens to watch Rasool play in the lucrative Indian Premier League. Seeing him on a cricket field, his fans rush to take selfies with him.

People generally don’t have an issue with individual success stories or career choices, but the difficulty arises when the state government, which is very unpopular in the wake of what happened from July to November in 2016, tries to appropriate individual success stories for its own propaganda.

It’s time that young achievers like Zaira Wasim are freed of all burdens from all sides, including media!

The author is a journalist and political commentator based in Srinagar. Views are personal.