By Shobhaa De
July 7, 2019
In just one short week, we saw two high-profile Muslim women
generating dramatically different debates across the country. One for being
‘too Muslim’. The other for not being ‘Muslim enough’. Zaira Wasim and Nusrat
Jahan have brought opposing perspectives to drawing room conversations. Both
deserve a fair hearing, once we allow ourselves to get beyond the ‘Imaan’ and ‘Sindoor’
level of sentimentality.
During the prickly
and tricky Zaira Wasim controversy, the two words that made most critics
uncomfortable were ‘personal choice’. The hostility she faced showed our lack
of respect for those who not just make personal choices but dare to declare
them publicly. I still cannot believe the outrage over an 18-year-old girl’s
upfront Facebook post which plainly stated that she was listening to her inner
voice and quitting showbiz.
And yes — her
religious beliefs were an important part of the decision. So? Zaira Wasim
wasn’t committing an unpardonable crime when she walked away from the movie
world unable to reconcile it with her ‘Imaan’. Ditto, for newlywed MP Nusrat
Jahan who showed up at the Rath Yatra celebrations in Kolkata with husband by
her side, sporting traditional symbols of a Hindu bride — Mangalsutra, Sindoor,
Chooda. She was exercising her personal choice as well. Both Zaira and
Nusrat were skewered across television channels for daring to break archaic
moulds and be themselves.
In Zaira’s case, shrill voices accused her of parading her
religion, with critics insisting she was under duress to quit showbiz. There
was loose talk about her being a victim of radical Islam, with speculations
galore about a threat to her life. Nobody bothered to find out the real
situation or ask Zaira directly. The utterly puerile questions that were raised
over and over again revolved around Zaira’s, “I’m done with Bollywood!”
comment. Critics found it hard to believe that a successful, beautiful young
actor could turn her back on more fame, more money, more adulation, unless she
was being intimidated or ‘pushed against a wall’. By whom? Had it been a Maulana
who had forced this decision on a popular young star, surely, he would have
grabbed headlines for getting her back on the right path. So far, nobody has
claimed credit for ‘saving’ Zaira from a life of ‘shame’. It is safe to assume
that she arrived at the decision of her own free will.
Bollywood is a tough, tough, tough place. Zaira, at 15, had
taken a leap of faith and jumped right in. Not too many actors get such an
amazing break. But once in showbiz, and now, older and wiser, Zaira said
clearly, “I may have fit in, but I don’t belong here.” There were reports of
her suffering from depression and popping anti-anxiety pills. If those reports
are accurate, we should applaud Zaira for responding swiftly to a wake-up call.
Had she continued in this profession, the consequences could have been tragic.
Some crack. Some don’t. Zaira left a bigger impact with just two films, than
other veterans with thirty mediocre movies to their name. But..but if Zaira has
pulled a fast one and it’s a publicity stunt, God help her!
As a society, we find it very hard to understand choices
that do not conform to conventional thinking. In Zaira’s case, a silly feminist
argument was introduced into the narrative (“How could a woman walk out of a
career?”). Choice is the ultimate feminist proof of owning one’s identity. A
woman who actively chooses to turn her back on a profession that no longer
appeals to her is exercising just such a right over herself. It is
disappointing to read and hear views of intelligent and informed people, who
jumped on Zaira’s back for letting the side down. Would any of them continue in
a line of work that makes them unhappy?
Sitting In Judgment: Zaira Wasim Was Blamed For Being
‘Too Muslim’ And Nusrat For Not Being ‘Muslim Enough’
Not everything in our complex society can be divided along
neat Hindu-Muslim lines. It is a matter of shame that Zaira’s and Nusrat’s
religion has superseded every other issue. Even if it was Zaira’s faith that
guided her to leave showbiz for a more meaningful life, surely it is her
business as an individual. Going a step further, assuming she was ‘influenced’
by religious leaders to rethink her career, it is again her prerogative to pay
attention to them, or ignore the advice. If Zaira believes she will be a better
Muslim after she quits Bollywood, why question her decision? Ditto for Nusrat,
who is boldly flouting convention and flaunting her marital status, as per her
own conscience. Nusrat says nothing has changed for her. She was born a Muslim.
And will stay a Muslim.
Personal Choice. Two words that make us nervous. Thank you
Zaira and Nusrat, for demonstrating the power of both.
DISCLAIMER: Views expressed above are the author's own.
Times of India