By: MAHWASH AJAZ
What does it mean to be a feminist? What does it mean to – believe women or support women – when any woman comes up with an allegation that ‘xyz’ harassed me? Not only harassment is a prevalent fact, false allegations are extremely rare. Because why would any woman come forth with her story about harassment or assault when she knows society’s structures are not sympathetic to victims. The powerful always wins.
Naturally, when you have a voice that you want to use for the good of not just your own gender but for those who don’t have a voice, who have been suppressed or those who need their cases fought in the court of public opinion, you always side with the victim. You always want to be standing with the person who is being exploited, maligned, hated … even lynched.
We live in a post-truth world now and it is becoming more and more difficult to sift fake news from real news. Similarly, as polarization grows thanks to social media, it has become even more impossible to understand nuances and have decent arguments. Social media now works like this:
Of course in serious cases such as crimes against women, we must all be unequivocally supportive of victims and we must also try and band together for just causes.
However we must also remember that hijacking of causes is also extremely real.
Ali Zafar vs Meesha Shafi – A Sordid Battle Begins in April 2018:
When singer Meesha Shafi came forth with her allegations against Ali Zafar in April 2018, I was shocked, like many others, that she was the subject of harassment of a ‘physical’ nature by Mr. Zafar. She did not give any details further (when, how, where) but in an interview given to The News, Ms Shafi stated that it happened at a jam session where Ali Zafar and various band members were present as well.
As a fairly vocal person on Twitter, I immediately jumped to Meesha’s defense and questioned Ali’s response. I must reiterate here that I did not know Meesha or Ali personally before this – I was only a fan of their work (both their work!) and had been watching them like many other Pakistanis. I was supporting her unequivocally – I wrote, tweeted, made vlogs, even boycotted Ali Zafar’s film Teefa In Trouble that was set to release within the same year Meesha tweeted about Ali Zafar.
Claims of sexual harassment have been making headlines in Pakistan after a well-known singer and actor went public with accusations about a popular male celebrity. On April 19, Pakistani singer and actor Meesha Shafi accused fellow celebrity Ali Zafar of sexually harassing her. “I will break the culture of silence that permeates through our society,” Shafi … Continue reading#MeToo hits Pakistan as sexual harassment allegations ariseAsia Times
Once Meesha made the tweet, I had nothing but sympathy and love for someone who was taking on a big powerful celebrity: of course, he was guilty! Of course he should be held accountable for what he did! Once Meesha made the tweet, a few other women came forward with their accounts that Ali Zafar was inappropriate/harassed them. Well that clinches it right? That’s all it takes! So we began equating him with Weinstein, with Kevin Spacey and all the other big names that the celebrity #MeToo had taken down.
After Ms Shafi’s tweet, a blogger named Humna Raza claimed that Ali Zafar had taken a selfie with her and his hand was on her waist. A girl named Maham Javed said she remembered an incident where someone she knew told her Ali Zafar had harassed a girl. A girl named Sofi said Ali harassed a girl at a Shaukat Khanum Memorial event in United States. A girl named Leena Ghani said she felt Ali was inappropriate and she kept quiet for so long but now Meesha’s tweet had helped her break her silence.
In an interview given to Instep, Ms Shafi further revealed that she was harassed at a jam session by Ali Zafar.
Witnesses Against Ms Shafi:
Ali Zafar filed a defamation suit against Meesha Shafi after her tweets and brought witnesses to court. 9 witnesses refuted Meesha’s statement about the jam session. Some of them went on television to state that they saw the session go on for 45 minutes with nothing untoward happening.
The girl Sofi, who alleged that Ali harassed someone at the SK fundraiser was immediately called out by the event organizer, Naila Khan who said in a comment, “felt disturbed reading that someone made an accusation about him at the SK fundraiser in Washington! I was there with him all along. He arrived late into the arena when everyone was seated, went on stage to address the crowd, stayed there in the spotlight in the auction, the audience begged to dance with them but he kept refusing.”
Naila tweeted in response to the girl on Twitter, “Sofi, you’ve given urself away. This is a complete lie because the Washington DC event was the last one in the series. There was no event after the event in DC.” Naila also tweeted, “This is getting ridiculous! He didn’t even go to Dallas!”
A girl named Fay Alif claimed Ali harassed five girls in A levels. Ali told the court that he had never even done his A levels and showed the court his intermediate certificate.
The Question of “Multiple Women”:
Now that Sofi’s allegation was out of the way (she retracted her statement later and said she was misinformed), Ali Zafar went to court to talk about the women who were accusing him. Leena Ghani and Maham Javed were both working for Meesha Shafi’s lawyer, Nighat Dad.
Of course, feminists such as myself still took his statement with a pinch of salt. Don’t all guilty men deny their crimes?
But then. We kept waiting.
Nor did I know exactly what it was that Mr. Zafar had done to Ms Shafi nor did I ask. Of course, she would have some proof or something that could hold all this up in court. There should be some kind of smoking gun. Even in Weinstein’s case or many other harassment cases, women come forth with evidence that can push someone in jail. CCTV footage? Pictures? Any audio notes? Any one who would have seen Ali misbehave with her and others would have corroborated that she was indeed the victim?
She did have supporters though, me being one of them, who kept on saying that ‘multiple women’ came out to support Meesha Shafi. A woman named Maham Javed said that she had once heard of someone who said Ali Zafar had harassed her on a boat.
Ali Zafar completed his testimony today on the second day in the Lahore session court. In what was a grueling 5 hour long session, he presented further evidence of a criminal conspiracy against him for a common agenda. “Meesha Shafi’s claim in her court testimony that the other women who came forward are unrelated is … Continue readingAli Zafar exposes the truth behind “other girls” in the Meesha Shafi controversyDaily Times
Not only Maham was connected to Meesha Shafi’s lawyer Nighat Dad through Nighat’s organization Digital Rights Foundation – Maham also had no way to prove her statement. Which is fair – there are many instances of harassment where it is almost impossible to show ‘proof’. However on April 29, 2019, Ali Zafar tweeted a video of the jam session where Ms. Shafi claimed that harassment took place.
“No body expected you to carry a GoPro #Meesha, luckily I had something close to it at the jam you accused me at. 11 witnesses from this jam, 2 of them women who went to court several times to testify against you but proceedings were delayed,” he tweeted. “Apologise or #FaceTheCourtMeeshaShafi.”
Post this, no one bothered to dared question Maham’s testimony either – because our first instinct, as social justice warriors, was to side with the person claiming something wrong has happened to them. Maham currently is abroad apparently and has not even appeared once in court proceedings. No one else came forward to corroborate what Maham saw except the fake accounts that were consistently targeting Ali Zafar and supporting Meesha Shafi. The same fake accounts were also, at one time, being followed by Nighat Dad.
If such is the precedent that we’re going to set for accusations, one can line up 100 people to accuse anyone of anything – would that make it true? Luckily, the law and in the age of digital media, while it’s very easy to accuse anyone on anything on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, it’s also has a way of being exposed as lies and falsehoods. In the case of Weinstein, the multiple women had corroborating testimony and legal cases that were deliberately quashed by Miramax and a sting operation against Weinstein alongwith audio recordings.
Then another blogger named Humna Raza came forward saying she had clicked a picture with him and he had put his hand on her waist. Sure, a woman could feel uncomfortable but once you do feel uncomfortable, you need to let the other person know and step away. Humna Raza has deleted her tweets since then.
Accusations against Ali Zafar https://images.dawn.com/news/1179895
And we’re not talking about children or people with reduced intellectual capacities here who have no idea what’s going around them. We’re talking about strong, intelligent, talented capable women like Meesha and well-spoke people like Hamna Raza (who has gone on speaking about how she bad it is to bully people on the internet – because a group of people came after her due to some other unrelated controversy).
Leena Ghani’s statement stated that he would say vulgar things to her and she would try to run away from him. You can see Ayesha Omar, Leena Ghani and Ali Zafar in the tv show Kollege Jeans. By her own admission, Leena and Ali were friends and family friends for long. Leena stated that she was quiet out of respect for the family but she is now supporting Mr. Zafar. I felt uncomfortable reading the whole thing – because it seemed as if Ali Zafar was gaslighting everyone, if you went by their accounts.
And of course, most people were like me: mere observers at the circus. All we could do from our phones or in our professional and personal capacities was to ensure that we stood with the girls who were accusing him.
Meesha was in Pepsi Battle of the Bands and Ali Zafar was out:
Even with some uncomfortable questions in mind (what exactly happened, why did she continue fraternizing with him even though he wasn’t really in that much of a position of power, what went wrong since I found out that they were family friends already, why won’t she go to court) I kept supporting Meesha publicly because I knew she had to win this for women everywhere – especially in Pakistan. She had to bring in some kind of proof or, like I said, a smoking gun, to prove her point. But she didn’t. To this day, she has to come to court for her cross examination for which she has failed to appear. She has also been fined by the courts for delaying tactics. As per law, defamation cases have to be wrapped within 90 days. It has been two years to this case now.
In his testimony, Ali stated that the Meesha had sent a message through his manager, Rizwan Raees, that he needs to back off the Pepsi contract, which is allegedly massively lucrative, or she would accuse him of harassment. Furthermore, Ali also stated that she had said that once she speaks out, more women would also speak out.
But then there were multiple women who came forth stating that Ali Zafar had never been disrespectful towards any woman. A woman also also stated that Ali Zafar had actively stopped women from being trafficked. Women also said that not only they had never seen anything untoward happen between Meesha and Ali at the jam session, a woman also said that they received anonymous phone calls to write/tweet that Ali had harassed them. Ali also received widespread support from the women who had worked with him and had known him for years – unlike Weinstein against whom everyone spoke up against, especially those who had worked with him.
A woman also spoke up saying that Ms Shafi has the habit of spreading malicious rumors about people. She also said that Meesha’s brother harassed someone and if Meesha was indeed speaking up to break the culture of silence, then why not speak about this incident as well?
A young woman named Tehreem Muneeba was quietly fighting for justice in the courts for the past two years. She had filed a sexual harassment case in the Ombudsman stating that she felt hostile and uncomfortable in the work environment created by her colleagues at her workplace. Tehreem is currently out of work – but she has won her case.
I apologized to Mr. Zafar in February 2020 after going through the case files and realizing all of our voices were used to incriminate Mr Zafar.
Ms Ghani claimed I had taken ‘crores’ of rupees from Mr. Zafar to tweet this. Nothing could be farther from the truth. But you can allege anything on Twitter, I guess- and that’s my point.
If one is to believe Zafar and Rizwan’s testimony, it is a classic case of blackmail with mala fide intent to not just have Zafar removed from but also destroy his career. The first valid question that comes to mind and came to mine was: why would a woman do this?
Maybe the answer to that lies in the statements released by Meesha’s former manager Fahad Rehman and college friend Talia where they narrate their incidents categorically stating that Meesha had a history of all this.
He wrote on Instagram in a post that is now removed: “I have known both Meesha and Ali for a very long time. Before both were even famous. I’ve seen their stardom grow over the course of almost 2 decades. I have had the misfortune of working with Meesha. Other than her terrible temper and tantrums, on one occasion, i was blackmailed by her 5 minutes before a show to give up my share of the commission my agency was making, otherwise she will not perform. After returning from the trip back to Pakistan and firing her as a client, i was made aware that Meesha was telling friends and colleagues that i stole her performance fee. A few other incidents occurred that I don’t wish to get into but you get the gist. This was 2008-9.
Now I don’t know what happened between Ali and her, but what i do know is that she has the capability to blackmail and malign ones reputation. Without hard evidence, i would take everything she says with a ton of salt.”
A colleague of Meesha’s stated this:
Tomorrow, if I say Ms Ghani has harassed me or Ms Shafi was paid by RAW agents, does that make it the absolute truth? It does not. They remain allegations and allegations are never equal to truth. This is why a journalist’s job is to get to the bottom of the truth (while reporting both sides). This is why I personally went through various court documents, files and testimonies to read what the case was about. And what I saw absolutely dumbfounded me.
The Lahore High Court dismissed Meesha’s case against Ali stating that she was making a mockery of the law. Many thought this was a technicality and that this did not prove that any case of harassment took place or it did not. What many people miss out on is – Ms Shafi’s lawyers were trying to portray Meesha as an employer so that courts would be more sympathetic to her case. It was simply a legal tactic employed which was written off by the court. The judgment also mentions that all the steps that one does in the case of harassment at the workplace were also not met or discussed by the employers (which in this case was Pepsi itself). The case wasn’t dismissed on a mere technicality: the case was dismissed because there was no case at all.
Lahore High Court Dismisses Case Against Ali Zafar: https://www.dawn.com/news/1510271
To portray yourself as an employee when you are hired as an independent artist is indeed mockery of the law and it does indeed question your entire fight. Why would you accuse someone of being in a position of power over you when they are not? Moreover, multiple witnesses are testifying that they saw nothing untoward. And then, the very cherry on top, is that Ali Zafar does not shy away from coming to court.
The defamation case is still in court and Ms Shafi’s counsels continue to take adjournments after adjournments. Ms Shafi has also been fined for delaying tactics. In the recent hearing, she was not present as well, even though she was in Pakistan and was seen at an anti-rape rally and is reportedly here for an advertisement/music shoot. All those things are important, as is fighting the case judicially. Unless the tactic is to let the case linger on for days and play on the public’s reasonable doubt on Ali Zafar’s career and character.
The Media Slant:
Meesha had made an allegation against Ali and it was up to courts to decide whether she was telling the truth or not – and no one has the right to shame her about her clothes, her behavior or even her choice to work with him. My only question is – would we now apply the same rule for Ali Zafar? Or does that mean I’m not a good feminist if I continue labeling someone as a harasser – even when I do not know for sure if they are actually guilty of what is being alleged against them? Why must I support a false – or even a questionable accusation – to support the cause for women? If anything, false accusations and such questionable cases make the cause weaker and destroy the chances of actual victims who are struggling to get justice.
Most journalists failed Ali Zafar because they latched on to the popular narrative: which was about supporting literally anyone who came forth with an accusation. This was the holy grail. You are either with them or against them: anyone questioning any statement is a victim-blamer and a rape apologist etc etc.
Dawn Images’ Editor at the time when Teefa was released was Hamna Zubair, who also happens to be in Meesha Shafi’s witness list, who has also not come to court. Not even once.
But that’s Pakistani liberal clan on social media for you – we have a set of agendas that we follow because we want to make sweeping statements. Then there’s our magnificent tower of self-hate under which every Pakistani liberal’s self-esteem is properly buried. And I’m not even asking the Pakistani media or the self-proclaimed liberals to stand for murderers and rapists or dictators to get rid of their self-hate.
All I’m asking the social justice warriors to do – is self-reflect and think before they accuse someone of anything. So much so was the impact of the propaganda against Ali Zafar that I saw some account stating that Ali Zafar had sexually assaulted tens of women. This is how fake news travels: and as stated in The Social Dilemma, a fantastic documentary on Netflix, fake news travels six times faster than real news on Twitter.
This is exactly what happened to Ali Zafar.
The Politics of This Case:
The leftist Pakistani media is prone to making false equivalences at the drop of a hat. Anyone who likes Ertugrul probably likes ISIS, if you are to believe Professor Hoodhboy. A soldier dying in battle asked for it, said another account known to spout misogynistic hate as well. Curiously, when you allege that a politician has done corruption, you will find almost all of the liberal media defending it and saying that because of mere allegations you cannot say anyone is corrupt. However, they will not extend the same courtesy to anyone they don’t like – Ali Zafar, for instance, is a scapegoat for them again because they do not like PTI and it is within the PTI government that Ali Zafar was awarded.
One of Meesha Shafi’s witnesses is television actress and model Iffat Omar who delivered a ‘funny’ monologue on rape and chemical castration. In the same monologue, she chided about Imran Khan rewarding ‘alleged harassers’, completely forgetting that if allegations are not proof. And if we’re really about to boycott harassers, Iffat herself has openly admitted to ‘hugging Rahat Kazmi repeatedly in multiple takes’ just because she liked him.
The whole movement has a political angle hence. Ms Omar hailed PTI’s opponents, Maryam Nawaz and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, as icons in the political landscape and dissed Imran Khan because his government gave an award to Ali Zafar.
PTI/Imran Khan aren’t without their faults and the job of a responsible media should be to call them out on when they actually err: but so many mainstream journalists have reported irresponsibly when it comes to Khan himself. Imran Khan’s billion tree Tsunami and his attempts on creating a good narrative going regarding protecting minorities as well as his strong stance on Kashmir have shown leadership qualities that should be appreciated. But to many, Khan is ‘Taliban’ Khan and is also a ‘mullah’ because he reads from a tasbeeh.
I’ve always been the kind of person who has spoken up against injustice, even if it is by someone I support. If Ali Zafar has misspoken anywhere, I would say that that is wrong. If Meesha Shafi has leveled false allegations against Mr Zafar, I would say that is wrong. If Imran Khan has misbehaved with any supporter, I would say that is wrong. If Bilawal Bhutto has misbehaved with any supporter, I would call it wrong as well. And while we can’t help party supporters only seeing one side of the story, as journalists or activists, we must stand for what is right. Unfortunately, the leftist media in Pakistan has made a scapegoat out of Ali Zafar the same way it has turned Imran Khan’s government into its favorite joke.
Why Are We Not Talking About False Accusations?
Harassment is an age-old phenomenon and speaking up about it is also not new.
Neither are false allegations.
Concurrently, why are feminists afraid of owning up to the power of #MeToo? This allegation is powerful and it does ruin lives of people: those who are actually guilty must be taken to court and must be held accountable. But we cannot ‘flatten stories in a hashtag’ as many commentators have said about the movement. The hashtag has many stories and not all of them can be equated with each other.
And that is why we must also penalize and hold accountable everyone who is ‘using’ this movement and this powerful hashtag to attack, malign and hate. #MeToo is being weaponized. Just recently filmmaker and outspoken critic of PM Modi’s regime, Anurag Kashyap, was accused of sexual assault. Similarly, the late Sushant Singh Rajput was also slammed with a ‘#MeToo’ allegation.
The same way Johnny Depp was constantly painted as an abuser/wife-beater whereas as audiotapes and videos revealed that Amber Heard admitted to hitting him. Gary Oldman faced the ignominy when he won an Oscar and liberals/feminists were disgusted because he had domestic violence allegations. Many days later, it was Oldman’s son himself who stated the allegations are untrue. There are many people who have been facing these controversies since then. Justin Beiber and Cole Sprouse also had to defend themselves in the face of the allegations they faced via anonymous accounts. If you start going through what men have had to face over false allegations, the list is harrowing. Suicides, termination, mental and emotional distress.
There has been a significant backlash of #MeToo in the United States where it was reported that men are now uncomfortable working with women because they are afraid of being alleged as harassers. How is this making the world a better place where men and women can’t even work together professionally? This merely shows that #MeToo is a powerful movement and must not be, at any cost, allowed to ruin innocent men’s lives because this isn’t a war against one man or the men we don’t know. This is a movement for social change that encourages women to speak up about their experiences and for men to learn and for abusers to be held accountable.
The Opposite of Patriarchy is Not Misandry; the Opposite of Sexual Harassment is Not Scapegoating Innocent People!
The opposite of patriarchy is neither matriarchy nor misandry – what I strive for as a feminist, is a society that holds men and women equally responsible. For example, no one should be asking a woman who has been assaulted what she was wearing or if she incited the rapist to assault her.
What I do want is that rapists, assaulters, abusers, molesters all face the strictest face of the law and are held accountable for the pain and the agony they cause upon their victims. I want a society where men are able to share their emotions without being called ‘sissies’ or being told they have to ‘man up’ to shed a tear. I want a society where men can also freely express their experiences of assault and abuse without shame and fear of losing their ‘masculinity’. The war is against apathy, indifference and hate. The war is for speaking the truth, even if it is uncomfortable or unpopular.
The war is not for every woman to be a part of a clique of mean girls but to empower women to speak up, hold abusers responsible then and there and create support systems for such women. Due to the sensitive and secretive nature of the assault, sexual abuse matters continue to go unreported: this is what we must all fight. There is no shame in speaking up and talking about abuse. And there is no shame in surviving abuse.