Zaira Wasim, the young and graceful Kashmiri artist is no exception, in Kashmir or in India. Nor is cinema, neither acting. Many Kashmiris before Zaira have worked in Bollywood as musicians, cinematographers, actors and writers. The chief minister Mehbooba Mufti’s brother, a successful cinematographer who recently joined the PDP was never projected as a ‘role model’ for Kashmiri people! Nor were numerous others who have been popular actors, singers, writers and producers of local cinema and drama for decades.
But why has Zaira, what she has done or achieved as an artist become a subject of debate? It is a question that, like many other similar instances of a Kashmiri doing well in the Indian realm has thrown up in the past, lays bare the relationship, entangled and entwined as it has been, between Kashmiri people and a manufactured imagination among average Indians of who the Kashmiris are. That precisely is the reason why politicians and ‘artists’ alike have sought to instrumentalise young Zaira’s self-agency and success for making spurious political arguments. The chief minister calls her the real role model for Kashmiri youth!
The ignominious and brazenly patronizing manner of offering role models to Kashmiri youth, or deciding for them who they must look to for inspiration is infantile politics at the best. And the most prominent sections of the Indian mainstream media are always ever ready to take a que. Kashmir is a society made up of all kinds of people like any other. But this kind of role model politics doesn’t just politicize individual self-agency of a Kashmiri successful in a particular politically acceptable manner in the Indian cultural and political imagination, but is also clearly directed at dividing Kashmiris along lines that actually depict a diversity of choices different people make in their personal lives.
An almost invented trolling against Zaira was blown up by major sections of the Indian media clearly to ‘demonise’ an average Kashmiri as intolerant, perhaps also for enhanced effect in these intensifying Islamophobic times. Mr Vijay Goel, India’s sports minister was very appropriately and gracefully rebuked by Zaira herself when he sought to limit the meaning of feminine freedom and beauty to how they choose to dress using an analogical reference to the new acting star.
Politicians, both in Kashmir and outside, as well as media practitioners who are always ready to play the entrenched but spurious and inverted Kashmir narrative for statist purposes will do well to instead embrace the reality of the Kashmir – an organic society in which not everyone has the freedom to make ‘politically correct’ personal life or career choices. Young Zaira’s grace is in reflecting the same in a remarkably mature way when she said she did what she wanted to and succeeded for herself and not because she wanted to become a role model for anyone irrespective of anyone wanting to make her one for themselves.