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Pakistani actor Ali Zafar accused of sexually harassing singer

A Pakistani actor and singer has alleged that Ali Zafar sexually harassed her on ‘more than once occasion’. Zafar has denied the allegations.

music Updated: Apr 19, 2018 20:02 IST
Imtiaz Ahmad
Imtiaz Ahmad
Hindustan Times, Islamabad
Ali Zafar,Meesha Shafi,Ali Zafar sexual harassment
Actor-singer Ali Zafar has denied the claim.

Pakistani singer and actor Meesha Shafi on Thursday accused actor Ali Zafar of sexually harassing her on several occasions, the latest in a growing string of such charges in the conservative country.

The 36-year-old mother of two, who made her film debut in Mira Nair’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist, took to Twitter to share her experiences.

Shafi said in a note that she was sharing her story because she feels speaking about such issues will break the culture of silence among Pakistani women.

Shafi wrote in her note, “I have been subjected to sexual harassment of a physical nature at the hands of a colleague from my industry: Ali Zafar. These incidences did not happen when I was young or just entering the industry. This happened to be despite the fact that I am an empowered, accomplished woman who is known for speaking her mind! This happened to me as a mother of two children.”

The singer of the hit song Aya Lariye, who was featured in UN Women Pakistan’s campaign to raise awareness about violence against women, said this had been a very traumatic experience for her and her family.

She added, “Ali is someone I have known for many years and someone I shared the stage with. I feel betrayed by his behaviour and his attitude and I know that I am not alone.”

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Zafar is a popular singer who has worked with Shafi on several songs and advertisements. He has also appeared in Bollywood films such as Tere Bin Laden and Kill Dil.

In a statement posted on Twitter, he 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 any and all claims of harassment lodged against me by Ms Shafi. I intend to take this through the courts of law and to address this professionally and seriously rather than to lodge any allegations here, contesting personal vendettas on social media and in turn disrespecting the movement, my family, the industry and my fans. Ultimately I am a strong believer that the truth, always prevails.”

Social media was largely supportive of Shafi and praised her for her bravery.

The fashion editor of Dawn newspaper, Hamna Zubair, tweeted in support of Shafi: “This is possibly the first instance of a Pakistani entertainer publicly calling out a peer for sexual misconduct. Prior to this, in Pakistan’s small, interconnected arts community rumours of misconduct floated around only through whisper networks.”

Shafi told Dawn newspaper her husband was the first person she had told about the harassment. Referring to her anxiety about coming forward, she added: “It shouldn’t be this difficult to speak out when one is in the right. As parents, we tell our children to speak up if somebody touches them inappropriately and that it is never their fault. So why is it this hard to do the same?”

“I’m doing this not only for myself, but also for people who might be watching me, especially young women, who have the right to enter any professional or communal space without fearing harassment.”

Shafi’s mother, actor Saba Hamid, supported her daughter’s decision to speak publicly. Hamid told Dawn: “I am totally behind my daughter and I support her. I’m hurt and angry and I feel very strongly about this.”

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First Published: Apr 19, 2018 17:46 IST