LAHORE: Just hours after singer and actor Meesha Shafi alleged that Ali Zafar sexually harassed her on multiple occasions, more women took to Twitter with a similar allegations.
Some women, while lending support to the singer, tweeted saying she is not alone and they had faced similar experiences. Make-up artist Leena Ghani thanked Meesha for her bravery for speaking up and shared her #MeToo story saying: "Seeing Meesha’s courage it’s impossible for me not to speak now, not only in support of her but also to say she’s not alone.” “In the many years I have known Ali, he has on several occasions crossed boundaries of what is appropriate behaviour between friends.”
She continued: “His behavior displays a clear lack of respect for women. Inappropriate contact, groping, sexual comments should not fall in the grey area between humour and indecency. The comments that would make your skin crawl and make you feel objectified are not to be reduced to 'a joke' such behaviors can leave women feeling embarrassed, small and reduced to the level of entertainment at the hands of a man. In such cases, women like myself run from a situation and hope to God you never cross paths again. And when by some misfortune you do, you hide from him. Hoping that his sleazy eyes and hands don't find you again. His hands don't make their way up and down your waist or hold you too tight while you desperately try to wriggle and run," she wrote. Leena said, "Today I speak out because of recent events between Meesha and Ali and today I have to find the courage to say she isn't and has not been alone." "The memories of the times when Ali thought he could get away by saying vulgar things still disgust me,” she wrote.
Journalist Maham Javaid also described an encounter “from many many years ago, when Ali Zafar tried to kiss” her cousin and pull her “into a restroom with him”. She added: "This was on a boat on the way to a party at the Yacht Club between 2004-2005. Why don't I remember the date? Because this is what's crazy: in those days the sexual harassment was such a non-issue and simultaneously such a taboo that we hardly spoke about it."
Blogger Humna Raza also recounted when Ali inappropriately touched her at a public event. She said: “Hi! Before you go on, please note this is difficult for me to put out there, but I’m just going to. So, in response to Meesha Shafi’s post, here’s the thing. One and a half year ago I was at an event and I kind of saw Ali Zafar there. I was with my husband and my friends. I was very excited to see him and so I left the group and decided to go and get a selfie with him just like any fan would. So, amidst the crowd and everyone, I made my way to him and asked, ‘can I get a selfie with you? He didn’t say anything, he gave me a smirk (NOT smile) and gestured by opening one of his arms with what I took as a yes. I came and stood right next to him and was about to click that photo when I felt his hand go up the side of my waist. GO UP MY WAIST properly, clearly. I don’t want to be too explicit. I felt it, and I KNEW what happened – like I knew, but I thought I was crazy. Kind of. But I wasn’t sure. I thought I misunderstood, and was thinking things lot but I also knew. I was lying to myself. I KNEW what had just happened.”
“I instantly went and told my friends what happened, I thought. I don’t know if they believed me, but at least they pretended to, and we agreed that he might have been on something and probably not in his senses, and today – I got a couple of WhatApp messages from my friends when I got home after a long day that Meesha had spoken, and that they’ve remembered it had happened to me too. My heart sank. All of a sudden, I realized IM NOT CRAZY. I wasn’t crazy. I was making excuses from him in my head and thinking I’m thinking things but I wasn’t. It happened, I took ages to decide whether I should write this, because my family, brother, everyone will find out. And will people even believe me? And am I messing with someone who might have too much power? Am I messing with someone who might not even remember doing this and says I’m a liar? Will the world hate me? Maybe he really doesn’t remember. Be he did what he did. He did this." A Twitter user, Sofi, also claimed that a volunteer was molested by Ali Zafar during a fundraising event in Washington DC.
Talking to The News, Ali Zafar said: “I have noticed that in the last few years, our moral values have drastically gone down, and the social media is the main culprit in this deterioration, because on this platform, people feel that anyone can say anything about anyone without any checks and balances.”
He added: "I have no fears about these baseless allegations of harassment leveled against me and I believe that the truth will prevail since I am going to move the court within a day or two, but, I am hurt over the misuse of the ‘Me Too’ movement by my accusers without any proof, because it will only bring a bad name and tarnish the image of my country."
About Meesha’s allegations, Ali said she is trying to get on the bandwagon of “Me Too” movement without having any proofs of the allegations leveled against him, which will only bring a bad name to the country when the truth will come out. Ali said that he belonged to an educated and highly respected family and had come up in life through sheer hard work. “This Meesha Shafi has been a family friend and has been coming to my home, knows my wife and kids and has put up my images on the Facebook herself. Her husband is also known to me and has worked with me in Canada”.
He said: “I am moving the court in a couple of days and then the truth will come out.” Ali said: “It’s all about ‘big contracts and money’” and someone might have become jealous about his popularity which was a reward from Allah Almighty. “My intentions have never been bad towards any lady colleague or any other women and that’s my biggest strength against this baseless campaign,” he said. Ali pointed that anyone having any doubts about his character should look into his project Ali Zafar Foundation, which was exclusively for the harassed women in the walled city.
Separately, Ali in a message posted on Twitter said, “I am deeply aware and in support of the global #MeToo movement and what it stands for. I am the father of a young girl and a young boy, a husband to a wife and a son to a mother. I am a man that has stood up for myself, my family, my colleagues, and friends countless times in the face of slander, defamation and general unkindness. I will do the same today. I have nothing to hide. Silence is absolutely not an option. I categorically deny and all claims of harassment lodged against me by Ms Shafi. I intend to take this through the court of law and to address this professionally and seriously rather than to lodge any allegations here, contesting personal vendetta on social media and in turn disrespecting to the movement, my family, the industry and my fans. Ultimately I am a strong believer that the truth always prevails.”
Meanwhile, a mixed reaction has been observed on social media, especially Twitter, following the allegations against Ali. Not only men but also a number famous women have tweeted on the issue that the people should not jump to conclusions. They should wait for a thorough investigations into serious allegations. Once something is proven then legal action should be initiated. However, if it is proved baseless even then the accuser should be held responsible for creating the fuss.
Just in 30 minutes, Meesha’s Twitter account gained followers on twitter from 30,000 to over 104,000. Most of the people dealing with violence against women are of the view that Meesha’s voice should be strengthened to help encourage other victims. Hashtags including #Ali Zafar, #sexual harassment, #celebrities etc remained popular on Twitter. The fans of Ali spoke in his favour, while women rights activists stressed upon fair probe. A tweet of Momina Mustehsan was also seen popular on Twitter.
In spite of the fact that Pakistan's celebrities have remained to a great extent mum on the issue, Osman Khalid Butt and Urwa Hocane have also tweeted. Osman wrote: “A woman breaks her silence about abuse, withstands character assassination and further abuse on social media, her story turns into memes and tone-deaf jokes that trivialize the issue, she fears ostracization - but sure, she did it for the cheap publicity.”
Later, actor Maya Ali posted a lengthy message on Instagram in support of Ali, saying she respects Ali and we shouldn’t judge anyone’s character" until the truth comes out. "I’m not here to say who is wrong and who is right or who did what and who didn’t... Let’s say, I haven’t known him for long, but I have been working with him since once year, we shot our film in Lahore and then we were all together in Poland to shoot the rest of the film and I never ever got any kind of that vibe from him," Maya said.
She added: “When we were on set or in any restaurant with the whole team he would always make sure that he was sharing those moments with her... I am not judging anyone nor giving any clarification on anyone’s behalf, and we can’t judge one side of a book... I respect this man Ali Zafar and want the truth to come out until then we shouldn’t judge anyone’s character.”
Similarly, film star Resham described Ali as mature person who remains focused on work. She said there has never been any scandal involving Ali and Meesha should either provide proof or keep silent, adding the claim seemed to be baseless.
On the other hand, stage actress Deedar said a person could harass another only twice or thrice, and a relationship [between Ali and Meesha] spanning over years “is called affair”. Whatever was happening involved total consent of the two parties, she added.