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Hira Mani

A few years ago, Hira Mani asked why actors were expected to be intellectuals. “Is it necessary to be a philosopher? Bhai I’m not this person, what do I do. I’ll tell you honestly, I don’t know how to define feminism. I would much rather tell you that please, explain XYZ concept to me. If you know better then please teach me because I don’t know. Better to admit that you don’t know something then to pretend that you do,” is what she had said in an interview. I know this because I did that interview in 2018.

At the time, Hira had caught the social media ire for her comments about her marriage to Mani, where she had confessed on a show with Samina Peerzada that she had ‘stolen’ Mani from a friend of hers, and she was speaking to me about not having a filter and saying things as they came to her.

But her question is valid – why are celebrities expected to speak on topics that they don’t or won’t know much about? In the last few years, ever since feminism and the #MeToo movement became buzz words, all celebrities have been asked to comment on this topic on red carpets and TV talk shows, and mostly the answers are disappointing, uninformed and damaging to social justice movements.

However, when not being asked specifically, celebrities (especially those who admit that their understanding of socio-political topics isn’t the strongest) should refrain from giving comments or opinions through their social media accounts, and we specifically mean Hira Mani in this case.

The actor recently posted a story on her Instagram account, in which she said that she hoped that Zehra and Zaheer are never separated. The Zehra in question is Dua Zehra, who has been carefully documented and followed by the media for her underage marriage to Zaheer Ahmed. The case has been under scrutiny for several reasons. Firstly, Zehra is a minor (she is nearly 15, 16 years old), and secondly, there’s now evidence that 24 persons were involved in abducting her from Karachi and shifting her to Punjab. What makes this case confusing is that while all this contradictory evidence exists, Zehra has been claiming that she has done this marriage out of her choice and free will.

Naturally, a complicated and sensitive matter such as this requires nuanced and informed opinions. For instance, it’s valuable to hear what the police, lawyers, judges, Zehra and her parents have to say. Even Jibran Nasir has been actively updating his followers with the details of the case. The rest of us, me included, should be very careful with what we put out there. To romanticize a possible case of kidnapping and underage marriage should be the very last thing on our list of priorities.

Underage marriages are a huge problem in Pakistan: We have the 6th highest number of girls married before the age of 18 in the world, and underage marriages are a huge violation of human rights. United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) highlights all the ways in which early marriages are dangerous for young girls: “they rob girls of their childhood and future prospects. Girls who marry are less likely to finish school and are at higher risk of domestic violence, abuse and health issues. Young girls aged 15-19 have had the highest reported cases of domestic violence in the last 12 months (24.3%). Child marriage also subjects girls to at-risk pregnancies, fistula, sexually transmitted infections or even death. Teen girls are also more likely to die from complications during childbirth than women in their 20s.”

To make matters worse, Hira responded to the backlash by standing by her words and saying that she was “emotionally correct”, if not politically.

I urge celebrities, especially Hira Mani, to not pass uninformed comments on topics such as the Dua Zehra case. Pakistan struggles with poor gender parity, sexual violence against women, lack of education for young girls and a myriad of other problems that hold our society back. Celebrities have the power to create positive attitudinal shifts in ways that traditional methods cannot. This influence should either be exercised for the betterment of society, or not at all.

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