Zaira Wasim: Trolls, regardless of their ideology, love slamming the 16-year-old Dangal actress
What do right-wing trolls and their hardliner counterparts have in common?
The 16-year-old Kashmiri actress, who made her debut with Aamir Khan's Dangal in December 2016, has quickly found herself as the favourite proverbial red flag for raging bulls of all dispensations on social media.
In January, she received hate from the hardliners for meeting with J&K chief minister Mehbooba Mufti.
Not only was she slammed for meeting Mufti (who hasn't exactly been a popular darling during the civilian unrest that has rocked the state since militant commander Burhan Wani's death in July 2016), Wasim's professional choices were also called into question. The more charitable among her haters merely called Zaira's decision to be an actress "un-Islamic"; not-so-charitable ones warned that she would end up as a 'porn star' or 'sl**' if she continued pursuing a cinematic career.
Zaira posted an apology on Facebook, the gist of which was that she hadn't meant to hurt anyone's feelings, and requesting everyone to remember that she was only 16, and to treat her like they would any other teen.
When that triggered another backlash, she deleted the post and put up another, insisting that she hadn't been made to apologise by anyone, and was only hoping to soothe frayed tempers.
Not that frayed tempers were soothed. Masked men burnt posters of Zaira in the streets of Srinagar and issued death threats.
Meanwhile, Zaira herself was busy engaging in another feisty Twiter exchange with sports minister Vijay Goel, who — on seeing a painting of a girl in a hijab juxtaposed against one who was trapped in a cage — had tweeted what he felt was a tribute to the Dangal actress' real-life story.
As Zaira informed him, the painting was not 'remotely similar' to her life.
In less than a month, she would be targeted by another set of trolls, this time right wing ones.
It all seems to have started with one Sonam Mahajan, who posted screenshots of a message she claims to have found on Zaira's mother Zarqa Wasim's social media account. The message is one of support for the Pakistani cricket team in their World T20 match against India at Dhaka in March 2014.
[Aside: The profile photo of the account that Mahajan posted the 'screenshots' from looks uncannily like Zaira, with longer, coloured hair. Or maybe Zarqa was using her daughter's picture as her own display photo.]
At the time of going to press, Zarqa Wasim, a schoolteacher, does not seem to have an official Facebook or Twitter account. Mahajan has been quoted as saying Zarqa deleted the old posts minutes after her (Mahajan's) tweets about them went viral.
On the basis of those three-year-old tweets, Mahajan declared the Wasim family were 'jihadists', and called out Zaira's Dangal mentor Aamir Khan for supporting them.
Meanwhile, Twitter India suspended Mahajan's account, but not before her tweet had been shared many times over by other users who labelled the Dangal actress 'anti-Indian' and asking her to 'go back to Pakistan' — on the basis of a social media message her mother may or may not have posted when Zaira herself was 13 years old.
Zaira has deleted her Twitter account (she had gone off Facebook as well), presumably to avoid the hate mail.
Mahajan has gone back to sharing her thoughts with her followers on Facebook (and blog?), since Twitter hasn't yet restored her handle.
She believes her account may have been blocked because she asked Arvind Kejriwal one uncomfortable question too many — although others are of the view that Twitter India head Raheel Khursheed oversaw the suspension of Mahajan's Twitter handle because "he is Kashmiri and pro-Pakistani" and therefore owes some kind of allegiance to his "Kashmiri sister".
Even Raheel's tweet that pointed out he heads news partnerships at Twitter and is not in charge of the suspension or blocking of accounts doesn't seem to have convinced anyone otherwise.
When the Mufti meeting row occurred, Aamir Khan had tweeted a message of support for Zaira, with this bit at the end: "I appeal to everyone to leave her alone and respect the fact that she is a 16-year-old girl trying her best to deal with life."
She was still 16, last we checked. Not that a little thing like that is going to stop the trolls — neither the hardliners, nor the right wingers. Seems like they do have a lot in common after all.