Zaira Wasim announced in a post yesterday that she was quitting acting as it was affecting her relationship with religion. A decision of this scale from an 18-year-old, especially on grounds of religion and spirituality has led to a big debate on social media. Is Wasim old enough to take such a drastic step, which would possibly close doors of fame and wealth for her? In a country where her career graph so far is envious to all Bollywood aspirants dreaming to make it big, is Wasim being ungrateful? Is it regressive of her to give her career in pursuit of spiritual fulfilment? The only question I want to ask is, who are we to judge? It is Wasim’s career and life, and if a girl can’t do what she likes in 2019, then are we even going in the correct direction when it comes to empowerment? If indeed this is what Wasim wants for herself, then shouldn’t we all be respecting it, instead of forcing our notions of empowerment on her? After all, isn’t empowerment all about letting women do whatever they want to?

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

  • Zaira Wasim has quit acting saying that it was interfering in her relationship with religion.
  • Her comments have earned her both support and backlash, with people calling her decision regressive.
  • While Wasim is just 18-years-old, isn’t she old enough to decide what makes her happy?
  • Couldn’t her decision mean that she is struggling to deal with the pressure of this job and is dissatisfied with it?

If indeed this is what Wasim wants for herself, then shouldn’t we all be respecting it, instead of forcing our notions of empowerment on her?  

“This field indeed brought a lot of love, support, and applause my way, but what it also did was to lead me to a path of ignorance, as I silently and unconsciously transitioned out of ‘imaan’ (faith). While I continued to work in an environment that consistently interfered with my ‘imaan’, my relationship with my religion was threatened,” Wasim wrote in her social media post. And perhaps this part about religion is the one which has alarmed many. In times when the liberal part of our society largely deems religion and religious practices as regressive and oppressive to women, the social media reaction to this statement has generated was expected. But that doesn’t mean it is right.

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Our relationship with religion is too complicated to be put in black and white. It isn’t just about having faith or not, or about believing that religion is the only path to enlightenment or these practices seeming out-dated. It is about social and cultural conditioning, it is about personal perspective and individual fulfillment and above all priorities. Not everyone finds happiness with money and fame. Billions of people find solace and happiness in faith. We may not be able to understand their point of view because we haven’t lived their lives, or identify with their priorities. The best thing to do, as per author Sreemoyee Piu Kundu, is to respect women’s decisions, even if we find them disappointing.

“I am disappointed, but, I feel a human being’s attachment with their religious faith is a deeply personal one and often an important marker in the evolution of their own cultural, artistic and personal identity, and, so if Zaira wants to quit acting in films and live a completely different life or dabble in a diverse profession – it must be respected, though as someone who deeply admired her talent, I do feel more than just a twinge of fleeting sadness,” says Kundu.

She further adds, “Both, personal freedom and free will for a woman are critical tools of self-volition and to me one of my own constant searching and it must be understood and supported and seen in the light of the on-going women’s rights movement. Be it a career transition, a change of cities/marital/relationship choices, what a woman wants to wear, the length and colour of her hair, where she wants to reside, whether she wants to marry and have kids or her sexual orientation or her lifestyle decisions – whether she wants to switch to a certain religion, after her marriage, change her surname, wear a burqa or a bikini, drive a car or ride a Bullet, move countries or take a sabbatical to start and raise a family/return to a full-time job – whether she wants to just have sex, sans strings, or live in or is a bisexual or asexual – her entire being is only and wholly her own. And, not anyone else’s.”

If Zaira wants to quit acting in films and live a completely different life or dabble in a diverse profession – it must be respected. – Sreemoyee Piu Kundu

Another important aspect of Wasim’s decision is her age. It is indeed possible that the 18-year-old is struggling to handle her fame, and that is a very legitimate reason for her to call it quits. Author Archana Pai Kulkarni says, “The girl is young. She is also battling depression. She is clearly torn between the lure of glamour, fame and art, which, while earning her accolades and a fan following, has invited the disapproval of the social setup she lives in. This constant being pulled apart has obviously taken a toll on her; she admits to being exhausted. If, as she purports, she is “not truly happy with this (actress) identity,” and has made a choice out of her own free will, to take refuge in or assert her allegiance to something that gives her peace, I wouldn’t judge her. It’s entirely her prerogative. If, given the resources at her disposal, she thinks it’s the best choice for her, who are we to object? Now, some of us are appalled that she has chosen to adhere to the tenets of her religion (according to her understanding and interpretation, of course), and turned her back on a promising career. There again, it’s her free will. We are a democratic nation, in which every individual has the right to practice their own religion. We want her to please the secular majority which assumes that she is this ‘poor thing’ who is being browbeaten into making a choice which we think is unwise. It’s an assumption. It may not be the truth.”

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“Zaira doesn’t deserve this derision. Even if we assume that her decision comes from being trolled and from the social censure that she has received, I do not understand this insistence that she must revolt. How many are going to hold her hand on that journey and stand by her and support her? Most of us are holier than thou bystanders ready with our opinions and expectations. The girl may just not have the bandwidth. She is eighteen – an adult – who has the agency to choose whichever path she wants to. Tomorrow, if she changes her mind and returns to acting, feeling better equipped to deal with the criticism and disapproval, I wouldn’t judge her then too. In a free country, she has that right too. Why don’t we just let her be? Having said that, I hope and pray that this decision has not compromised her rights and agency. I hope it brings her happiness and peace.” Kulkarni further adds.

Even if we assume that her decision comes from being trolled and from the social censure that she has received, I do not understand this insistence that she must revolt. How many are going to hold her hand on that journey and stand by her and support her? – Archana Pai Kulkarni

One also needs to inspect if the alarm bells this statement has sounded have anything to do with the common perception regarding Wasim’s religious identity.

Fashion Blogger Amena Azeez thinks it indeed does. “It is a matter of choice. We all remember what it is to be eighteen. I remember that at 14 I wanted to be Miss India, at 16 I wanted to be something else. So at 18, most of us are already experimenting and we are allowed to switch professions for whatever reasons it is. If Zaira had given the reason that she wanted to study further, I don’t think we would have made an issue out of it. In a way she has said that previously that this profession has taken a toll on her. I quit fashion designing at the top of my game because it gave me a lot of health issues like PCOD. So what should we make of that?”

Azeez says that this response to her decision is basically due to Islamophobia. “Vinod Khanna did the same thing at the peak of his career. On a daily basis we read in the newspaper about little children embracing monkhood because they want to be closer to God. We don’t really hear much criticism about that. Wasim is 18 years of age that means that the government recognises her as an adult. Why are we then berating her decision?

I am a practicing Muslim and am very proud of it and there are times when there is a conflict of interest but I ask myself some questions and I find answers for myself. My spirituality, my faith is very much parts of who I am as a person, but does that mean I am not allowed to make choices because of that? Besides she didn’t say that Muslim women should not work. Spiritual health is as important as physical and mental health. So why should we discourage that?”

Picture Credit: Tribune India

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Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are author’s own.

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