Sindoor To Bollywood, Stop Setting Standards For Muslim Women

We need to break out of the obsessive need to impose ideas of empowerment on Muslim women. 

Published01 Jul 2019, 05:33 PM IST
2 min read

So,actor-turned-TMC MP Nusrat Jahan gets married to a non-Muslim, walks into the Parliament with sindoor on her forehead and we applaud. We call her inclusive, we call it choice. And rightfully so.

Just days later, actor Zaira Wasim announces she is quitting the world of cinema, saying her “relationship with religion was threatened”. She says her career path led her to transition out of Imaan, and all hell breaks loose. It, of course, starts with victimising her; then it moves on to meanness and speculation.

As fatwas were issued over Nusrat’s sindoor, artists and journalists hailed her, stood by her. But for Zaira, there is no applause, we are disappointed and we also don’t let her be. Zaira is branded as ‘ungrateful’ and ‘without agency’. And her religion, Islam, is named regressive.

Double Standards

Why this stark difference in responses?

Zaira’s decision is based on her understanding of faith, just like Nusrat’s. You can lament the loss of a talented actor, sure. You can choose to disagree with her decision.

But calling her brainwashed and radicalised, even given the geo political situation of Kashmir (where she hails from), is problematic. Just because it is all speculative.

Everyone remembers how Zaira was criticised after she stepped into Bollywood by certain sections in Kashmir. She was abused and trolled for her choice to be an actor. Her morals were questioned.

Now, as she takes another decision — to step back from movies, for whatever reasons— she faces backlash again. Where does this profiling end?

So Many Assumptions

It is high time we let go of the problematic standards set for Muslim women in this society.

If they choose to break out of religion, they become icons, otherwise, they are either downtrodden or radicalised. By default, we assume they don’t exercise their choice.

Why? If we are assuming that Nusrat did what she did out of her own choice, why are we assuming anything different for Zaira?

Because we are not comfortable with religious Muslim women? Sindoor is culture but hijab is oppression?

I can’t help but wonder if there would have been a ‘radical’ or ‘indoctrination’ narrative had Zaira practised any other religion. Would she have required ‘saving’?

Break Out Of Profiling

Zaira was 14 when she entered Bollywood and now she is 18. Which ones among us had our lives figured out at 18? Wasn’t there a lot of back and forth? Respect her decision to step away from the limelight and do some self-introspection. Do not insult her intelligence. This is her battle and she doesn’t need anyone to fight it for her.

Popular opinion is that Zaira should break out of religious doctrines. But it is us who need to break out. From the obsessive need to impose ideas of empowerment on Muslim women and from, consciously or otherwise, dictating how Muslim women should behave.

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