#MeToo: Ali Zafar-Meesha Shafi Controversy and Everything You Need to Know About it So Far
The #MeToo movement in Pakistan surrounding Meesha Shafi and Ali Zafar is a flashpoint again. Here’s all you need to know so far
The #MeToo Movement in Pakistan has become a flashpoint once again. Meesha Shafi alleged sexual harassment at the hands of Ali Zafar and Ali Zafar has denied the allegation. One year ago when Meesha tweeted her statement, social media uproar occurs every time the two appear in public any time. There have also been a lot of questions surrounding Ali Zafar and Meesha Shafi's court proceedings. Here is everything you need to know about the controversy in the simplest possible terms.
Meesha Shafi's Statement
On April 19, 2018, Meesha Shafi took to Twitter to allege sexual harassment by Ali Zafar. She said in her statement,
"As a woman, a public figure and a mother, I have always felt strongly about using my voice to encourage and support our youth who look up to me, especially girls, who dream of carving their own path in Pakistan.
Throughout my career, my family and my fans have given me unconditional love and support and that has been a blessing. It has allowed me space to be brave and to often speak up about issues. However, despite having a voice, there are some issues that are very difficult to speak about as a woman, especially sexual harassment.
Today, I speak up because my conscience does not allow me to be silent anymore. If this can happen to someone like me, an established artist, then it can happy to any young woman and it concerns me gravely.
I have been subjected, on more than one occasion, to sexual harassment of a physical nature at the hands of a colleague from my industry: Ali Zafar. These incidences did not happen when I was young, or just entering the industry. This happened to me despite the fact that I am an empowered, accomplished woman who is known for speaking her mind! This happened to me as a mother of two children.
No woman is ever safe from sexual harassment. In our society, we hesitate to speak up and choose to stay silent and this emboldens sexual harassment to flourish. We must collectively use our voices to share stories so that we break this culture of silence and so that young women today are safer. It has been an extremely traumatic experience for me and my family. Ali is someone I have known for many years and someone who I have shared the stage with. I feel betrayed by his behaviour and his attitude and I know that I am not alone.
Today I am breaking this culture of silence and I hope that by doing that I am setting an example for young women in my country to do the same. We only have our voices and the time has come to use them."
Sharing this because I believe that by speaking out about my own experience of sexual harassment, I will break the culture of silence that permeates through our society. It is not easy to speak out.. but it is harder to stay silent. My conscience will not allow it anymore #MeToo pic.twitter.com/iwex7e1NLZ— MEESHA SHAFI (@itsmeeshashafi) April 19, 2018
Ali Zafar's Response
Two hours later Ali Zafar responded saying:
"I am deeply aware and in support of the global #MeToo movement and what it stands for. I am the father of a young girl and a young boy, a husband to a wife and a son to a mother. I am a man that has stood up for myself, my family, my colleagues and friends countless times in the face of slander, defamation and general unkindness. I will do the same today. I have nothing to hide. Silence is absolutely not an option.
I categorically deny and all claims of harassment lodged against me by Ms Shafi. I intend to take this through the courts of law and to address this professionally and seriously rather than to lodge any allegations here, contesting personal vendettas on social media and in turn disrespecting the movement. My family, the industry and my fans. Ultimately I am a strong believer that truth, always prevails."
More women came forward against Ali Zafar speaking about sexual harassment at the hands of Ali Zafar. An artist named Leena Ghani said, that his "behaviour shows a clear lack of respect for women. Inappropriate contact, groping, sexual comments should not fall in the grey area between humour and indecency. Comments that would make your skin crawl and make you feel objectified are not to be reduced to 'a joke'." She went on to say that, "in most cases, women like myself run from a situation and hope to God you never cross paths again. And when by some misfortune, you do, you hide from him. Hoping that his sleazy eyes and hands don't find you again. His hands don't run up and down your waist or hold you too tight while you desperately try to wiggle and run. The memories of the times when Ali thought he could get away by saying vulgar things still disgust me."
Another young woman, a blogger named Humna said, "One and a half year ago I was at an event and I kind of saw Ali Zafar there. I was with my husband and my friends. I was very excited to see him and so I left the group and decided to gand get a selfie with him just like any fan would. So amidst the crowd and everyone, I made my way to him and asked, 'can I get a selfie with you?' He didn't say anything, he gave me a smirk (NOT a smile) and gestured by opening one of his arms with what I took as a yes. I came and stood right next to him and was about to click that photo when I felt his hand go up the side of my waist”.
A journalist named Maham Javaid recalled an encounter between her cousin and Ali Zafar. ‘Ali Zafar tried to kiss my cousin and pull my cousin into a restroom with him. Luckily my cousin’s friends were there to push Ali Zafar off’ said Maham in a series of tweets.
Response from Fellow Celebrities and Activists
Actor Osman Khalid Butt was the first celebrity to speak on the issue and voiced his support for Meesha Shafi. Later Urwa Hocane also supported Meesha. However, Ali Zafar's co-star Maya Ali lent her support to Ali. Model and actor Ayesha Omar also shared a story of being ‘seriously’ harassed and Momina Mustehsan also tweeted that ‘#MeToo needs a response #ImSorry from the offenders’. She released a statement in which she said that she stands by ‘all the women who have had to deal with inappropriate behaviour of any sort’. Sanam Saeed, TV star Iffat Omar, UN Women Pakistan also supported Meesha Shafi whereas Mahira Khan took a neutral stance.
“The sick mentality of those commenting on an issue as serious as sexual harassment as casually as they are just shows where the root of this problem exists - in our minds,” tweeted Mahira. “We will continue to breed harassers for as long as we continue to desensitise this issue.”
The sick mentality of those commenting on an issue as serious as sexual harassment as casually as they are just shows where the root of this problem exists - in our minds. We will continue to breed harassers for as long as we continue to desensitise this issue.— Mahira Khan (@TheMahiraKhan) April 20, 2018
Hamza Ali Abbasi took this opportunity to advocate gender segregation and Feroze Khan and Mehreen Raheel supported Ali Zafar. Of late Iman Ali, Resham and Juggun Kazim have shown support to Ali Zafar.
Meesha announced around a week later that she hired Ahmed Pansota and Nighat Dad “I have appointed Barrister @pansota1 and @nighatdad as my legal counsels to look after all issues pertaining to my sexual harassment claim against Ali Zafar. Media is requested to contact them to get any update on the ongoing issue.”
Ali Zafar's Lawyers
The very next day Ali Zafar’s legal team sent a 100 crore defamation suit to Meesha Shafi. In the suit, Ali demanded that Meesha issues an apology and deletes the tweet in which she alleges that Ali Zafar harassed her.
In a report shared by Dawn Images, Meesha's lawyer, Ahmed Pansota said: "We have received the notice and are examining its contents. The contents of Meesha's statements with regard to Ali Zafar are based in truth, and therefore we dispel this notice.”
Meesha faced a gag order from the court and the initial case was dismissed by the court. The federal ombudsman dismissed the sexual harassment application under the Protection against Harassment of Women at Workplace Act 2010. She appealed to the provincial Governor, who upheld the decision of the Ombudsman, and dismissed the appeal. She stated to the court that Ali Zafar harassed her “at a private studio and family functions.”
Ali Zafar's Film Teefa In Trouble
In 2018, Ali Zafar starred in Teefa in Trouble alongside Maya Ali. It was distributed by Geo Films and Yash Raj Films and released on July 20, 2018. The film faced a few boycotts but went on to collect 50 crores at the box office.
Meesha in Pepsi Battle of the Bands
Meesha appeared in Pepsi Battle of the Bands Season 2 as a judge and sang the song ‘Mein’ which she had written herself.
Meesha attends Aurat March
Meesha attended Aurat March, a walk to celebrate Women’s Day in Pakistan. She encouraged on her social media for other women to attend.
Ali Zafar Speaks to Hamid Mir
Ali Zafar gave an indepth interview to Hamid Mir at Government College Lahore.
Lux Style Awards 2019 Nominations
The Lux Style Awards 2019 nominations had Ali Zafar nominated as the Best Actor and Meesha Shafi was also nominated for her song ‘Mein.'
Boycotting the LSA
The nominations met backlash on social media and later model Eman Suleman announced that she would be withdrawing her name. Following this, makeup artists Saima Bargferde, Fatima Nasir and clothing brand Generation also withdrew. Director Jami also tweeted that he would be dumping his award. Meesha also announced that she would be withdrawing her name.
Ali Zafar's Statement
Ali Zafar appeared in court and spoke to the media and likened Meesha Shafi to Malala Yousafzai, saying that this was all done on a ‘personal’ agenda. The hashtag '#FacetheCourtsMeeshaShafi’ was also started by Ali Zafar subsequently.
Supposedly what is Ali Zafar’s wife, Ayesha Fazli’s account, on Twitter, tweeted: “What me, my husband @AliZafarsays and my family have gone through at the hands of such criminal cruelty can never be explained in words. The cyber bullying & betrayal by friend(s) has been a big eye opener. Even if Ali lets it go, I will see through it.”
What me, my husband @AliZafarsays and my family have gone through at the hands of such criminal cruelty can never be explained in words. The cyber bullying & betrayal by friend(s) has been a big eye opener. Even if Ali lets it go, I will see through it. #FaceTheCourtMeeshaShafi https://t.co/GQ9DtKnwI3— Ayesha (@AyeshaFazli) April 28, 2019
Meesha Shafi's Lawyer's Response
Nighat Dad appeared on Geo TV in a program and the host Shahzad Iqbal asked her why she follows what Ali Zafar claimed were suspicious accounts. Dad replied: "I follow any account that supports Meesha Shafi and her cause. I retweet tweets posted in favour of Meesha Shafi and her cause." Nighat said that "if Ali Zafar believes that an account is fake, he can go ahead and lodge a complaint.”
The case is still being fought and Meesha Shafi is still under a gag order. Nighat voiced the status of the case on Twitter:
“While Meesha has a gag order against her under defamation suit, she can’t talk on mainstream media & social media about the case while other party to the case uses mainstream media and online spaces to spread misleading narrative around the case and viciously calls her liar. Alleges her lawyer to promote fake social media campaign against ‘him’ in media talk outside the court, as if all other accounts came forward with harassment allegations are fake too. Stop intimidating people with shallow threats of filing cases against them. Least you can do. Meesha has not been called by the court as of yet, she will go once court will direct her too. Why lawyers are there? To represent her client. Our case on sexual harassment has never been heard on merits. Dismissed on technical grounds, order is challenged in the LHC.”
Meesha has not been called by the court as of yet, she will go once court will direct her too. Why lawyers are there? To represent her client. Our case on sexual harassment has never been heard on merits. Dismissed on technical grounds, order is challenged in the LHC.— Nighat Dad (@nighatdad) April 27, 2019
Ali Zafar shared a copy of the ‘dismissal’ of the case by his lawyer, Ambreen Qureshi.
Here’s the copy of Meesha’s case dismissal exonerating me in the eyes of the law. Now I will prove in the eyes of people, with evidence, how she lied! I will also expose the most heinous social media campaign against me that you may ever seen. #FaceTheCourtMeeshaShafi https://t.co/3gEqFpQJhh— Ali Zafar (@AliZafarsays) April 28, 2019
He has also said there will be more pictures of him and Meesha together.
From the looks of it, the case will continue to be fought online and in the court.