In the last 10 years or so, countless dramas have tackled sexual abuse, rape, child abuse, and sexual harassment as central themes. While some were horribly written, glorifying the abuser (Gul-E-Rana anyone?), others like Rehaai, Nanhi, Mubarak Ho Beti Hui Hai, Haiwaan and Udaari were brilliant in doing justice to the victims. Those were simpler times, however, and in the absence of social media, there was no social media outrage. Makers of those dramas did not face personal attacks; there was no social media trolling and vile, hateful comments or even death wishes were not carried out, no matter how problematic the content was.
If you don’t already know who or what I’m talking about, it’s Fahad Mustafa and his newest production Dunk, based on a real-life event.
Dunk is produced by Fahad Mustafa and Dr. Ali Kazmi and is said to be the story of a professor (Nauman Ejaz) falsely accused of sexual harassment by one of his students (Sana Javed), after which his life completely turns upside down. The drama is based on a real-life story of a family in Sarghoda. The father was a professor and committed suicide when he was falsely accused of sexual harassment by one of his students. He left a letter for his family saying that even if he is proven innocent, this will harm his daughters in the worse possible way, hence he committed suicide.
In an interview with ARY News, Mustafa recently stated that “95% cases of sexual harassment are genuine but in some cases, people are falsely accused, so we have to tell every kind of story.”
Now, given that we are in the #MeToo era, and especially in a country where women already do not feel safe in reporting harassment and if they do, people have a hard time believing them, should he have made this drama? Yes, absolutely. This is not a story justifying a man who sexually assaulted his student; it is about a man who was falsely accused of such harassment in real life and committed suicide.
The timing of the drama, however, might not be so great.
The slew of hate and vitriol that Fahad Mustafa is receiving on social media is actually quite scary. The fact is that even if the cases of false accusations are less than 5%, they still matter and if someone wants to tell their story, they have the right to. We’re talking about a professors whose life was ruined because of a false accusation and the fact that no one believed him. Did his life, his family, and their suffering not matter? Why is it that we can sympathise when women are victims, but not with men? Why do people get to decide what kind of victims matter or whose stories should and shouldn’t be told? That is not how this works.
This professor had a wife and two daughters so why do we get to decide that their suffering doesn’t matter even though their life completely changed with their father’s suicide? To everyone reading this, please think about it for a minute: what if this was your father, brother, son, husband? What if this had happened to your family? Would you just move on and forget about it because your family’s case is just a sad little statistic of being one in 5%?
Unfortunately, Mustafa isn’t the only one being shamed for this. Yasra Rizvi, who plays the professor’s wife Saira, is also being bashed for her role. After her role as Jugnu in Asim Abbasi’s Churails, she is being called a hypocrite and sell out for playing Saira. This is flabbergasting to me. She is an actor and her job is to play different kinds of roles, even if they are poles apart. You don’t get to compliment her on one role and bash her on another because she no longer fits your narrative of what a feminist should be. Criticize her acting if you want, but you don’t get to personally attack her or use abusive language for the role she plays.
I spoke to Yasra Rizvi and she says she already knew about this story from before so when the role came to her it piqued her interest. She decided that she wanted to tell this story, “because even though it might be 1 out of a million cases, the fact that this might be collateral damage doesn’t sit well with me”. She went on to say that “Dunk is 20 some episodes and if you are a man watching this, you will learn that if you do harass women and it comes out in public, know that this can happen to you; your wife will leave you, your children will suffer, and your entire life will be turned upside down so it’s something for any harasser to think twice about.”
Most of the abusive comments (filled with foul language) to Fahad and Yasra are coming mainly from women who self-identify as feminists and human rights activists. Women’s rights are human rights and just like she has the right to wear what she wants, do what she wants, she has the right to choose the role she wants. Feminism is about advocacy for women’s rights; equality, equal pay, equal justice for all genders… it doesn’t give you the right to judge who is and isn’t a victim.
It seems that on one side Pakistan has the religious right, men who want to tell women what to and not to do, and on the opposite side it has the liberal left, men and women who also want to tell women what to do and not to do. No one is really interested in what women actually want.