It seems that the Dangal actor Zaira Wasim was waiting to be a story. A Kashmiri girl playing an important role in a blockbuster Bollywood movie starring no less than Aamir Khan. She is vocal and active on social media. The need was for an irresistible news peg to hang the story on. And what better a peg than pitting her against her Kashmiri background, and pitching the story as a tussle between the modernity and regression. The opportunity came handy when the alleged social media trolling following her January 14 meeting with the Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti forced her to issue a confession and an apology on Facebook. Without naming Mehbooba, Zaira wrote that she should not have met her as a section of people in the state saw her responsible for the killings and blindings in Kashmir during the five month long unrest last year.
“I want to apologise to all those people who I’ve unintentionally hurt and I want them to know that I understand their sentiments behind it especially considering that what had happened over the past 6 months,” Zaira wrote.
Her apology expectedly touched off a media circus, with some television channels holding the trolling and the alleged threats responsible for forcing her to apologise. Media played to its favourite trope on Kashmir: a manufactured contest between a hapless, emancipated teenager and her anti-modern stereotyped tormentors. But Zaira posted another message to refute the implication that she was forced to tender an apology.
“Again and again I am telling people that I have not been forced into anything by anyone,” she wrote in another post.
Fact or fiction
In the consequent bedlam and the war in TV studios, the original truth of the story was irreparably lost for the world. A popular Russian proverb says that in the news there is no truth and in the truth there is no news. Yes, because, truth is always complex and in its intrinsic layered form will never be of use for the soundbyte journalism.
Like anywhere in the world, online anonymity makes beasts of some people in Kashmir too. Politicians, artists and even journalists are hounded for their statements, performance, stories or for nothing at all. But in case of Wasim, the trolling represented a prevailing anger against the killings and the blindings during unrest and in the teenager’s apology was the realization that there was something about her meeting with chief minister that was amiss. She was sensitive enough to take some blame and move on, but then the media stepped in.
No, it is nobody’s case that media shouldn’t have entered the scene. From the looks of it, the story was tantalisingly up for grabs. What was terrible was the way the media – TV channels, in particular – rushed to draw sufficient conclusions out of insufficient premises; the way the story was quickly kneaded into shape and its loose ends fixed. They were quick to inject the peppy religious element and build the story into fundamentalism versus modernity speech. What is more, the story has been playing breathlessly on television, sending Wasim, a 16-year-old girl, scurrying for cover.
This article first appeared in the Kashmir Observer.