What The ‘Badass’ Sania Mirza Shows Us About Standing Up To Trolls

“Beware of false knowledge; it is more dangerous than ignorance.” – George Bernard Shaw

2017 is here and how! Other than Jallikattu, Zaira Wasim, the child artiste from the movie ´Dangal´ was the other trending news over the last two weeks of January 2017.

All hell broke loose after the Kashmir government released photographs of Zaira Wasim with the Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti. Ever since, Zaira has been receiving heavy criticism from the people of Kashmir in particular.  Her posters have been burnt and she has been receiving issues of death threats from masked militants.

The Kashmiris have lost all trust in their Chief Minister, Mehboob Mufti. She is the chief of PDP, the ruling party which is in joint collision with the BJP. She has faced the wrath of the Kashmiris after the 8 Jul 16´ killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani by her security personnel. The killing was followed by more killing. Nearly 90 people died in the aftermath violence. Clearly, this issue has clearly taken a very dangerous political and religious turn.

Contrary to the girl she played onscreen in ´Dangal´, the real life Zaira Wasim is fearful for her own life and most likely, her family´s as well. Let´s be frank, most people in her place would be. Who knows who her enemies are and how dangerous they are? Who is she dealing with? How powerful are they and what are their connections? So, the girl decided to play it safe and publicly apologise on Twitter.

“I hope people remember that I’m a just a 16-year-old girl and I hope you treat me accordingly. I’m sorry for what I did but it was not a deliberate decision and I really hope people can forgive me…I understand the sentiments behind it especially considering what had happened over the past 6 months.”

And it didn´t just stop with an apology for meeting the Chief Minister. It went beyond that.

“I’m not proud of what I’m doing and I want everyone, especially the youth to know that there are real role models…”

So, basically she was apologetic for playing an onscreen character in the big bad world of Bollywood. And that automatically disqualifies her from being a good role model for Muslim women. She does not want anyone to follow in her unholy footsteps.

Unfortunately for her, the drama did not end there. Giving this non-issue an even more colourful spin, Wasim found herself trapped in another religious and political cage. Vijay Goel, BJP Union minister for sports and youth affairs posted a picture of him standing next to a painting of a woman in a hijab, trapped in a cage and remarked

“This painting tells a story similar to that of Zaira Wasim. More power to our daughters!”

Wasim immediately wrote in a disclaimer –

“Sir, with all respect to you, I feel I must disagree. I request you not to connect me to such a discourteous depiction. Women in hijab are beautiful and free. Moreover, the story depicted through this painting is not even remotely relevant to mine.”

Clearly, the girl is scared and already fed up over the endless string of controversies! Is that the kind of world we want our children or any one of us to live in! Yes, we understand it is a political issue. The Kashmiris have every right and their own valid reasons for being hurt, disillusioned and angry with the Kashmir government. But, death threats to an innocent 16 year old girl is a bit too extreme and using her as a political prop, much worser!

Let´s shift the focus from Zaira Wasim to Sania Mirza.Way more than her game, I am a bigger fan of her persona. I love Sania Mirza´s attitude, her confidence, her passion, and her grit. Her mental strength is the secret of her professional success. I have always maintained that she is a fantastic role model for women in this country. And the more I see her grow and evolve over the years, the more I love her. I love her unapologetic way of living, courage and independence.

Now Sania Mirza has been the bone of contention for both Muslims and Hindus.

When Sania Mirza first hit the Indian tennis scene, she was the biggest sensation in the country. Which disturbed a few of the orthodox Muslim clergy who went on to hit her with a Fatwa in 2005, demanding her to cover up. She was targeted and criticised for wearing short skirts and revealing tops on the international tennis circuit.

´The dress she wears on the tennis courts…leaves nothing to the imagination. She will undoubtedly be a corrupting influence.´ said Haseeb-ul-hasan Siddiqui

Then in 2007, she got into another controversy for shooting a promotional campaign for Hyderabad’s heritage site Charminar at Mecca Masjid. But this time she apologised.

‘While I am fully aware that a woman must not enter the sanctity of the mosque, I was unaware that even entering the outer gates of a mosque was seriously objectionable, specially without permission, which I was assured by the agency they possessed,’

On New Year´s day in 2008, she got into deep waters for resting her feet on a table that was right in front of the Indian National flag. Following which, Prakash Singh Thakur, a social worker filed a case against her under the Prevention of Insult to the National Honour Act. She said that the pose was unintentional and accidental when her patriotism got questioned.

In 2010, she came under the patriotism radar yet again when she married a man whom she loved, and who happened to be the famous Pakistani cricketeer Shoaib Malik. Pakistani Cricketeer! Now, that is one hell of a combination to anger any patriotic Indian in the country. Her integrity, character, loyalty and patriotism were questioned. Then in 2013, Telangana BJP leader K Laxman addressed Sania as the ‘daughter-in-law of Pakistan´ questioning her credentials to be the brand ambassador of Telangana.

And who can ever forget her spontaneous and clever response to the journalist, Rajdeep Sardesai for questioning when is she finally going to ´settle down´!

Sardesai: Amidst all the celebrityhood, when is Sania going to settle down? Is it going to be in Dubai? Is it going to be in any other country? What about motherhood… building a family… I don’t see all that in the book, it seems like you don’t want to retire just yet to settle down.

Mirza: You don’t think I’m settled?

Sardesai: You don’t talk about retirement, about raising a family, about motherhood, what’s life beyond tennis is going to be…

Mirza: You sound disappointed that I’m not choosing motherhood over being number one in the world at this point of time. But I’ll answer your question anyway, that’s the question I face all the time as a woman, that all women have to face — the first is marriage and then it’s motherhood. Unfortunately, that’s when we’re settled, and no matter how many Wimbledons we win or number ones in the world we become, we don’t become settled. But eventually it will happen, not right now. And when it does happen I’ll be the first one to tell everybody when I plan to do that.

Sardesai: I must apologise, I framed that question very badly. I promise you, you’re right, I would never ask this question to a male athlete…

Mirza: I’m so glad, you’re the first journalist to apologise to me on national television.

As you can see, Sania´s reactions have always been badass. Sania Mirza is the ´short skirt thigh flashing Muslim´. But, a devout Muslim nonetheless. She lives her life the way she thinks is right for her often making her own choices and being unapologetic about it! Thus, bringing on the ire of both the Mullahs and Sadhvis but never cowing down to either.

The problem in this country is that one´s individuality is completely insignificant. There is no respect and sensitivity to an individual´s own formed opinions, thoughts, likes, dislikes or choices. You are expected to fit in with the standard protocol. Often, in most cases than not, standards of mediocrity and hypocrisy. Or else, you are branded as a freak, or an eccentric or an outcast.

Mediocrity hates being challenged with ingeniousness. Veiled hypocrisy hates being confronted by the naked truth. That´s the bottom-line problem. Not a Zaira or a Sania!

I am glad that we have people like Sania Mirza  in this country who are unapologetic for the individual choices that they have made in their lives. They may not fit into your conventional picture of what a role model Hindu or Muslim might be, but the fact remains that they are proud devout followers of their faith. I see the same kind of bullying even among Christian groups. First, they are brain washed and then they attack all those who don’t fit into their pretty picture framework of what an ideal Christian looks like. So much for hypocrisy! Amen!

Back to Zaira! I will not be harsh on her because she is only 16 years old. Seriously, all I would like to say is give that child a break. Okay! Like really! Let her enjoy her childhood,her adolescence, her youth! Let her be! Let her do what she wants to do with her newly found fame. Be it trying to meet politicians to empower women, or make in roads to joining politics if she has political aspirations or take acting classes or pursue science or go on a celebratory world wide tour or visit discotheques like most teenagers normally do. Let her do what she wants to!

Right now, she is on the defensive. She has clearly made a choice not to upset the religious authorities. Unlike Sania Mirza, who was pretty clear in her head and conscience that she was absolutely not at fault. She was pretty certain that she was not wrong in both her intent or choices.

Yes, we all live in a society, belong to a particular community, gender and a religious group and a certain country.  And it´s great to belong to so many various groups. But, it is tough trying to find that perfect balance when your whole is classified into so many various sub categories. Then, you have a hard time trying to figure out your true identity and what you should be standing for. And that is a very tough call for not just a 16 year old Zaira, but many adults past their prime. They have no idea why they fight or stand for a particular cause. And if they do, how tolerant are they of other groups or other individuals choices.

All I can say with certainty is that there is nothing wrong with what Zaira Wasim did and there was no need for her to apologise to anyone. If people want to make an issue out of a non-issue and hold a 16 yr old girl responsible for all this mess, it is their problem and not hers. In fact, they should be the ones apologising to her and not vice versa. She owes no one an explanation except her creator. To each their own karma, judgement day, whatever you choose to call it!

Till then, let there be love, peace, joy and harmony on earth!

(This article was published at Women´s Web, http://www.womensweb.in/2017/01/what-zaira-wasim-can-learn-from-sania-mirza/ and Youth Ki Awaaz, https://www.youthkiawaaz.com/2017/01/zaira-is-no-sania/ )

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