"I intend to take this through the courts of law and to address to this professionally."
In a shocking revelation of sorts, popular Pakistani singer and actress, Meesha Shafi has accused actor and famed musician Ali Zafar of sexual harassment.
Zafar has since responded to Meesha’s claims.
On 19th April 2018, 36-year-old Shafi posted a lengthy statement on her Twitter page, stating:
“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.”
Meesha added that she is hoping to break the culture of silence with this move.
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
Approximately four hours later, Ali responded to Meesha’s allegations with a statement of his own, denying the claims. In his post, Zafar added: “silence is absolutely not an option.”
He further writes: “I categorically deny any and all claims of harassment lodged against me by Ms Shafi.
“I intend to take this through the courts of law and to address to this professionally and seriously rather than to lodge any allegations here contesting personal vendettas on social media.”
— Ali Zafar (@AliZafarsays) April 19, 2018
The allegations are surprising considering the massive stature of both the stars in the Pakistani entertainment industry.
Zafar has had a long-standing musical career and is often regarded as a pioneer when it comes to preserving the country’s cultural musical scene. His acting talent has also taken him to Bollywood.
Being active in Pakistan’s music scene herself as well as a role model to many, Meesha has worked with Ali before:
“Ali is someone who I have known for many years and someone who I have shared the stage with. I feel betrayed by his behavior and his attitude and I know that I am not alone,” she said.
According to Meesha’s post, Zafar physically abused her on more than one occasion. She writes:
“These incidences did not happen when I was young or just entering the industry. This happened to be 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.”
Currently, women all over the world are standing up to sexual harassment. Following the shocking revelations of Hollywood sexual predators like Harvey Weinstein, there have been similar outbreaks in Bollywood and Tollywood. Now it looks like the Pakistani industry is ready to openly speak out too.
Meesha, in her post, wrote:
“Today I am breaking the 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”
This is the biggest allegation against an established star in the Pakistani film industry. Even in a massive entertainment industry like Bollywood, such big names have not yet been exposed and it seems Meesha wants to set an example for other female artists, including musicians and actresses.
Since posting her statement, the singer informed Pakistani press that she confided in her husband immediately after the incident. Meesha reportedly spoke to Images saying:
“When the incident happened, the very first person I told was my husband. Shortly after that, I spoke about this incident to someone on my team, and one of my friends.”
Shafi’s mother who is a well-known Pakistani actress, Saba Hameed has also come out in support of her daughter.
She told Images: “I am totally behind my daughter and I support her. I’m hurt and angry and I feel very strongly about this. That this can happen with someone like Meesha who is so empowered is a rude awakening.”
Conscious efforts are being taken globally to encourage women to stand up against harassment and talk about it openly. Hameed maintained that it is a necessary move regardless of the nature of harassment:
“Previously, women weren’t even allowed to speak up about things like this. This has to stop. We need to tell our men this is not ok. No matter how minor or major harassment is, it leaves a scar. To heal this wound one has to talk about it,” she added.
Considering Ali is one of the most popular faces Pakistan, Twitter is abuzz with reactions to the shocking claims.
I am always in awe of the women who break out of whisper networks and share these horrific experiences. All hail the Pakistani sisterhood and all hail the marvellously brave @itsmeeshashafi for shattering the silence around #AliZafar.#MeToo https://t.co/Py8FPBnx3k
— Sophia Saifi (@SophiaSaifi) April 19, 2018
The face of the entertainment industry is so cosmetic. #AliZafar is not only popular/successful, he's been regular star for ages. We've all known him since Kollege Jeans. #MeeshaShafi has taken on a giant. Let's see if this sparks a big movement for us. #MeToo
— Mahwash Ajaz (@mahwashajaz_) April 19, 2018
While many support Meesha’s courage to speak out, others are showing their support for Ali instead.
Ali’s response suggests a legal action is underway. Meesha is yet to respond regarding Ali’s denial.