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Zaira Wasim Chooses To Quit Movies For Religious Reasons – But Is It Just A Question Of Her Choice?

Posted: July 1, 2019

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Zaira Wasim, of Secret Superstar and Dangal, has chosen to quit working in movies because she feels that it hampers her ability to follow her religion. While she should be free to follow her heart, is it also not harmful to hold her up as an example to be followed?  

When I was sixteen or seventeen, a girl I knew quit her studies. Her reason for doing so is that she had “found religion.” I remember feeling extremely conflicted then –should I support her decision as a friend, or should I dig deeper to make sure that she wasn’t pressured into doing so?

That same conflicted feeling took hold of me when I read about Zaira Wasim quitting the movie business.

In a lengthy post, Zaira shared how she felt that “though I may fit here perfectly, I do not belong here.” Acknowledging that the field brought her a lot of love and support, it also led her down the “path of ignorance.” “This journey has been exhausting, to battle my soul for so long. Life is too short yet too long to be at war with oneself. Therefore, today I arrive at this well-grounded decision and I officially declare my disassociation with this field,” she wrote.

Needless to say, this created a commotion on social media, with her decision being debated and discussed.

Conflicted reactions of all types

The Islamophobes were out in full strength, using this as an example to comment about how regressive Islam is, and how badly it treats women, conveniently forgetting the many patriarchal traditions of their own religions. Ultimately, the fact that Zaira is a Muslim does not matter. Different religions have different ways of controlling women.

Twitter users were quick to call out this hypocrisy.

Many users pointed out that if the movie business is forbidden by Islam, then the many Khans of Bollywood have no place in Bollywood too. Others argued that there is nothing un-Islamic about acting or making movies.

One Twitter user pointed out the hypocrisy of calling Zaira’s decision regressive, while hailing Vinod Khanna for embracing monkhood.

Many said that it was Zaira’s choice and that it must be respected, drawing parallels to MP Nusrat Jahan’s choice to wear sindoor and mangalsutra.

“Freedom to choose is supreme,” wrote Arfa Khanum Sherwani, Senior Editor of The Wire.

Others pointed out that no one had any real authority to comment in a personal choice.

Others however were skeptical. Rama Lakshmi, Editor of The Print, wrote, “When you’ve a modern Constitution, why do you turn to ancient religious texts to define morality?” Many questioned if it really was her choice, given that she has constantly faced backlash for her choice to work in films.

Some pointed out that it was not Zaira’s choice to quit that was the problem, but the religious angle that makes it problematic. According to them, her post comes off as a “sermon”, and puts undue pressure to conform on other young women who may have other aspirations.

A ‘choice’ is not ‘feminist’ simply because a woman makes it

In her book, Rage Becomes Her, Soraya Chemaly warns of the dangers of “choice feminism” –the idea that any choice is feminist simply because a woman is making it. “Feminism is public and political by definition, and the term “choice feminism” rings hollow for many reasons, not the least of which is that it depoliticizes women’s thinking and decisions, and contributes to women blaming themselves, feeling depressed and being quiet when they witness or encounter discrimination,” she writes.

As this comic strip so wonderfully explains, any choice we make is a result of social conditioning, cultural values and other factors that are not in our control. So while we are entitled to our choices, we must question their origin and support people who make other choices.

Zaira Wasim has made her choice, and it is her right to do so. There is no point in attaching any labels to it. However, to term her choice as the “only good choice” or to shame other women for choosing differently is unquestionably wrong.

Image source: YouTube

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