Opinion | We are with you Zaira Wasim—go heal yourself
- Our response to Wasim is only the latest in the Saving Muslim Women series, itself a sub-section of the We’ll Tell Indian Women How to Think series
- Every time a young celebrity speaks up, your sons and daughters find the answers to questions they are too scared to ask you.
When 18-year-old Zaira Wasim announced earlier this week that she was quitting Hindi films because she was deeply unhappy and because by being in the industry “I continued to put myself in a vulnerable position where it was always so easy to succumb to the environment that damaged my peace, iman (faith) and my relationship with Allah", I wanted to reach out and give her a tight hug.
You remember 18, right? When you were finally released from the daily instruction of high school and all those rules you followed every single day from the time you first learnt to read and write. Now you could run, not walk, in the corridors, have multiple cups of tea in the middle of the day, skip classes to make out with a hottie in the comforting emptiness of a matinee show and wear whatever you wanted every morning.
Oh yes, and you had to figure out who you were. It was time to find your piece and then devise a way to fit that piece in the giant puzzle of life. The world expected you, a newly-minted legal adult, to have a half-decent answer to the question: What do you want to be?
Wasim tried to tell us exactly that when she said, “I lost all the Barakat from my life. Barakat is a word whose meaning isn’t just confined to happiness, quantity or blessing, it also focuses on the idea of stability, which is something I struggled with extensively." In short, she just wanted some calm.
We welcomed Wasim’s eloquent declaration of adulthood by slamming her on social media. We called her decision “deeply problematic", “obnoxious", and announced that like scores of Muslim women, she had been “indoctrinated" and that it was an open-and-shut case of “regressive conditioning". How dare she invoke religion and faith to justify her decision?
Rescuing Muslim women has been a pet theme these past few years. Just a couple of days before Wasim’s statement, social and traditional media “defended" the right of Trinamool Congress MP Nusrat Jahan to wear sindoor after her interfaith marriage.
Everyone outraged about a “fatwa" issued by Islamic centre Darul Uloom against Jahan for marrying outside her religion and applying sindoor. Except that no such fatwa had been issued. An investigation by fact-checking news website AltNews found that one cleric had said the following: “…I found that she married in the Jain community. In Islam, a Muslim can marry only a Muslim. She works in movies and actors don’t care about customs. It’s pointless to talk about the matter. I am only stating to the media what Sharia says."
Raising the bogey of sharia law has always been a favourite strategy of the Sangh Parivar. Muslim men and Islam are regressive, dangerous and misogynist. They are waging a love jihad against Hindu women and suppressing the rights of the women in their own community. We recently saw another example of this narrative unfold in the debates around the criminalization of triple talaq. Our response to Wasim is only the latest in the Saving Muslim Women series, itself a sub-section of the We’ll Tell Indian Women How to Think series.
We need to question why we seem more terrified of a teenager’s desire to rebuild her relationship with Allah than with the half-a-dozen hate crimes against Muslims in recent weeks that have invariably revolved around attackers demanding their victims recite the Hindu chant Jai Shri Ram.
And in all this, we have forgotten that this is not the first time Wasim has shared what was plaguing her. In June 2018, Wasim revealed that she had been diagnosed with depression and anxiety four-and-a-half years ago (she had her first panic attack at 12). She said that after years of believing that she was too young to be depressed, she had finally accepted her illness. She listed some of the things she had been through, including “Popping five antidepressants every day, anxiety attacks, being rushed to the hospital in the middle of the night, feeling empty, restless, anxious, hallucinations, having sore limbs from sleeping too much to not being able to sleep for weeks, from overeating to starving myself, unexplained fatigue, body ache, self loathing, nervous breakdowns, suicidal thoughts…"
Then she had said she needed a complete break from everything. “I am really looking forward to the holy month of Ramadan as it may be the perfect opportunity to figure things out."
Author Gurmehar Kaur, who experienced a similar social media attack in 2016 when she was 20, defended Wasim on Twitter. “The need to have the hottest of hot takes on twitter at the cost of a teenager’s mental well-being is sickening. It is the cruelest," she tweeted, “and I say that having been there."
In other countries, younger celebrities routinely speak out about their battles with mental illness. In 2015, supermodel Cara Delevingne said she had been diagnosed with depression at 15 and that it made her suicidal. In 2016, singer Justin Bieber announced on Instagram that he was cancelling some events because they always left him feeling “mentally and emotionally exhausted to the point of depression. The pressure of meeting people’s expectations of what I’m supposed to be is so much for me to handle and a lot on my shoulders."
Every time a young celebrity speaks up, your sons and daughters find the answers to questions they are too scared to ask you. So join me in thanking Zaira Wasim for sharing her deepest thoughts. May she find the peace she’s seeking.
Priya Ramani shares what’s making her feel angsty/agreeable.