In what is being called Pakistan’s #MeToo Movement — the revolutionary campaign concerning sexual harassment and misconduct, which has many popular international names amid its folds — model, actor and singer Meesha Shafi has accused popular singer, actor and her colleague Ali Zafar of sexual harassment. Shafi, in a post on Twitter, spoke about breaking the culture of silence and being subjected to sexual harassment at the hands of Zafar “despite being an empowered, accomplished woman who is known for speaking her mind”.
Zafar denied all of Shafi’s allegations and said that he would address this “professionally and seriously”. “I intend to take this through the courts of law… rather than to lodge any allegations here, contesting personal vendettas on social media, and in turn disrespecting the movement (#MeToo),” he wrote on Twitter.
Both the artistes are popular names in India and Pakistan and have found much following due to their Coke Studio (Pakistan) outings and film work. Lahore-based Shafi, a relatively unknown artiste in Pakistan and India till 2010, stormed the music scene by becoming an online sensation with her famed song Jugniji with folk singer Arif Lohar. She later starred in Mira Nair’s Reluctant Fundamentalist. Her subsequent Coke Studio performances in various seasons have made her a household name. Zafar arrived in India at the back of Huqqa Pani, an album that found much success in the subcontinent. This was followed by Abhishek Singh’s satire Tere Bin Laden, Zafar debut acting role where he played a journalist. He was recently seen in Mere Brother Ki Dulhan and Gauri Shinde’s Dear Zindagi.
Speaking to The Indian Express from London, Pakistan pop icon Zoheb Hassan, remembered for his duo act with sister Nazia Hassan and more recently his Coke Studio performances, said, “I know Ali really well and haven’t heard of any issue concerning him in the past. He’s always been very respectful and nice in all our meetings. I don’t think it’s possible. As for Misha, I do not know her, but if a lady has made an insinuation such as this, then there must be something to it. It can’t be pulled out of the air. The courts will be able to decide what’s right.”
“We live in a patriarchal society where women’s rights aren’t taken seriously. We also live in the era of Harvey Weinstein and allegations of sexual harassment need to be taken very seriously. We need to draw a red line so that no one, even in jest, makes this up. Meesha is a respected artiste who has come out publicly with these allegations. Ali is also a respected artiste who has denied these allegations. This can be proved or disproved through an arbitrary legal process,” said Salman Ahmad, founder and lead guitarist for popular Pakistani band, Junoon, who has known Zafar closely. Ahmad, who said the artiste community was shocked by the allegations, added that artistes in Pakistan also need to be sensitive about how they interact with friends and fans of the opposite sex.