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Meesha Shafi on Ali Zafar's alleged sexual harassment: The more people I tell, the more power I feel

India Today logo India Today 22/04/2018

Meesha Shafi, Ali Zafar posing for the camera © Provided by India Today

Singer-songwriter and actor Meesha Shafi, in an interview to a magazine, has elaborated more on her allegations of sexual harassment against Ali Zafar.

"The first time it happened, I didn't react and just left. I told my husband but also asked him to not react; I'm a public figure and so is he (Ali Zafar). My thought process was who I am and who he is and what that's going to lead to. Being ready to talk was far off because it had just happened. I buried it," Shafi recalled.

"It happened for the second time, late last year or last quarter of last year. And in both instances, we were not alone. The second time it happened in a jam room," she narrated.

Meesha Shafi and Ali Zafar were booked and billed to perform on the same concert, she said. When asked about why she took up the concert, after having gone through one episode of discomfort with Ali Zafar, she said, "It is my bread and butter, it was work coming my way."

Both ended up preparing for a song together to be performed on stage during the concert.

"I was jamming with my band in Lahore and the organizers insisted that he was trying to get in touch. It started turning into a thing, and I was being seen as difficult or a diva, I got such feelers. I was avoiding him. I was asked to jam, figure out songs, scale and it happened while we were jamming," Shafi said.

"I have run into him, our pictures have been taken, at social gatherings etc because it's easier to to tell yourself to move on in whatever way you can, you try," she added.

But the most important part of her detailed interview with the magazine was why she decided to speak about it now.

"The first and foremost reason is that I'm ready. I have started talking to people and divulging my experience. I'm finding it hard on my conscience to stay silent any longer than this because I'm seeing such brave girls and women speaking up - not just around the world - but here as well," she revealed.

Shafi said her source of courage was other females who took it on themselves to not bow down under taboos and male domination. She was referring to the allegations of sexual harassment levelled against Khalid Bajwa, the CEO of the music streaming app Patari. He was forced to step down from his position, in the wake of the allegations.

"It's not easy. They are not public figures and I think it can be harder for me, in a way, but it's hard for everyone. The more I think about it, the more I realize that if I don't go public, nothing will change. It was eating away at me," Shafi said.

Meesha Shafi has two children, who she said have always been taught to not stay quiet and speak up if they feel that someone or anyone touches them inappropriately or even if they feel uncomfortable with anyone. She said that this is the rule of her house, adding that she and her husband ensure that their children are aware that they will never be left alone.

"It's important to speak up; it is not your fault under any circumstances. It is never, ever your fault. Don't ever think it is you who needs to hide this," Shafi said, talking about what she tells her son and daughter.

She said that while she gives encouragement to her children to speak up against such incidents, it was becoming difficult for her to not opt for the same in her own case.

"I am telling my children how important it is to speak up, so it was getting difficult for me to stay silent knowing that it was not accidental or subtle," Shafi said.

For her, anything that makes a women feel uncomfortable or any touch that she feels is inappropriate, gives her the right to speak up, not only to let the person know that he is the culprit, but also to let other people know because they need to know.

For Shafi, the Ali Zafar issue is not about a hug that would have gone on for longer than usual, a prolonged handshake or an extended greeting. It was certainly much more than that.

But bringing the issue to light has certainly been a relief and a burden lifter for Shafi. "It is liberating, it's empowering and it's not the end of the world. I only felt hesitant as long as I hadn't told anyone. The more people I tell, the more power I feel. I do. That has been my direct experience in the case. I've done the thing I feared and I've taken the leap of faith. And you know what, it's okay," she said.

Meesha Shafi has opened up for the first time since her tweet, which is making a massive impact, as more women have joined her and come out with their stories of harassment by Ali Zafar.

More importantly, Momina Mustehsan's tweet has opened up a broader debate on the overall climate that persists for females in the Pakistani media and entertainment industry, as parents are beginning to have serious reservations about their daughters getting into the entertainment industry.

With celebrities like Momina Mustehsan, Ayesha Omer and others admitting that they also have been subjected to harassment by men from their industry, it is now for certain that the issue of harassment of females in Pakistan, is not limited to the case of Ali Zafar and Meesha Shafi only.

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