It is unfortunate when the political shots are fired from the tender shoulders of a child actor. Whatever the grouse that separatists have against Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mahbooba Mufti, venting it out on the 16-year-old Zaira Wasim, who played the younger version of champion wrestler Geeta Phogat in the latest Aamir Khan-led blockbuster Dangal, is simply not done.
Wasim has recently posted a “confession/open apology” on her verified Facebook page, and while we are not completely sure if the post is genuine, or whether her account has been hacked into, that she has viciously trolled for meeting Mufti is abundantly clear.
Not only has Wasim been traumatised over the much-hyped meeting that she had with Mufti, it was alleged that by playing an Indian wrestler, she was espousing the cause of the Indian state, and therefore going against the Kashmiris who want azadi.
In her FB note (since deleted), she wrote:
"I know that many people have been offended and displeased by my recent actions or by the people I have recently met. I want to apologise to all those people who I've unintentionally hurt and want them to know that I understand their sentiments, especially considering what has happened (in Kashmir) over the past six months."
Wasim added, "I hope people can also understand there are certain circumstances that emerge which one cannot control. I hope people still remember that I'm a just a 16-year-old girl and 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."
However, we must ask why has a meeting with J&K CM Mufti triggered such online vitriol against the young Wasim, who wowed everyone with her gritty portrayal of the recalcitrant and physically metamorphosing Geeta Phogat. Well the reasons could be the following.
Firstly, many in the Valley see Mufti as the torchbearer of the betrayal that they think the PDP has committed by forming the ruling coalition with the BJP in the state. While it was Mufti Mohammed Sayeed who forged the unlikely alliance between the polar opposites, after Sayeed’s demise in January last year threw his daughter Mehbooba into the spotlight. As a result, she became the target of throttled separatist aspirations and got blamed for growing violence in the Valley.
Secondly, after the death of Hizbul commander Burhan Wani, a dashing lieutenant of the separatist cause, CM Mehbooba Mufti had shown unparalleled resistance to taking sides. While she condemned the hardline approach that the paramilitary took towards the mass mourners at Wani’s funeral, by firing pellet guns at them and blinding several hundreds, she did not for once hailed Wani as a hero.
Easily, Mufti became the target of both the jingoist ultranationalists as well as the separatists, who see the Kashmir story in black and white. However, this was also the time of media gag such as banning Kashmir Reader and three-month-long internet shutdown in the Valley, growing violence and comparisons with the time when during the National Conference regime, about 112 were killed by Indian army personnel in 2010.
Thirdly, meetings with PM Narendra Modi, home minister Rajnath Singh and others from the Centre, who are seen as those adding fuel to the fire of discontent against India within the Valley with their hardline nationalism talk, made Mufti a bigger criminal in the eyes of the younger, unseasoned Kashmiris.
Finally, Wasim’s portrayal of Geeta Phogat in a film dipping with patriotic sentiments of the unapologetic Indian variety, might have really upset those who want a separate Kashmir free of India for themselves. While Wasim excelled at playing Phogat, the rifts in the political tectonic plate only got wider.
It is unfortunate and extremely unnerving that the impressionable and young Wasim is being targeted by those with ulterior political motives, whether fair or not. Why should politics turn an adolescent into a scapegoat of partisan advocacy and territorial dogfights? The actor in Wasim would do well to learn from Aamir Khan and steer clear of any political camp whatsoever that wants to box her into a predetermined identity compartment.
Why calls for azadi are justified when done peacefully – everyone has a right to self-determination – the ugliness of political one-upmanship over a child actor’s happy rendezvous with a controversial but gritty CM of a conflict state is truly deplorable.