KARACHI: It’s the birthday of Pakistan’s baddest beti! Superstar Mahira Khan turned 34 today with more feathers in her cap than ever.
From starting her career in the Pakistani entertainment industry as a small-time VJ to being appointed as a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees goodwill ambassador, this powerhouse of a woman has come a long way. Her prowess at combining art and activism made her win the Contribution to Film and Activism Award at the 20th annual UK Asian Film Festival London. She also won the Lux Style Award for Best Actress for her role in the politically charged drama Verna in which she played the role of a rape survivor.
In the past year, the Raees actor grew richer as she effortlessly combined art with activism and used her outreach to raise awareness on issues considered taboo in Pakistani society.
Here’s a quick review of the times the activist in the artist Mahira spoke up, in no particular order:
1. On child sexual abuse
Year 2018 in Pakistan started with national outrage as reports of the rape and murder case of Zainab Ansari, a six-year-old girl from Kasur, surfaced. It was a heart-breaking incident, to say the least, shaking everyone to the core. Mahira joined Pakistanis in registering their protest against the silence around the reality of child sexual abuse.
In her tweet, the Verna star urged people to bring the discussion around sexual abuse out in the open.
She said, “We need to start talking about sexual abuse openly. We need to include that in our school curriculum. Awareness is key. Associating abuse and rape with shame is why countless go unheard of. Stop with the shame.”
2. On falsely accused blasphemy victims
This country has witnessed a rather grim reality of mob rule when it comes to the blasphemy law. In 2017, a 23-year-old man Mashal Khan was lynched by a mob of fellow university students when rumours about him allegedly committing blasphemy spread. Needless to say, the case shattered many souls across country and the world. The same year Herald, a publication of the Dawn Group of Newspapers, named Mashal Khan as ‘Person of the Year’.
A bold move, the Bin Roye actor did not shy away from rallying support for those who think differently in this country.
“Thank you @HeraldPakistan for this! The Mashal Khan(s) of this country are the people of the year, always.”
Mahira also joined those who cheered when justice was upheld for religious minorities in the case of Aasia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman who was on death row in a blasphemy case.
“May we always be ruled by the law of humanity. Pakistan Zindabad #AasiaBibi,” the brave actress tweeted.
3. On the plight of refugees
Appointed as the UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, Mahira met Afghan refugees living in cities like Karachi and Nowshera. In a heartfelt message on her Instagram account, the Ho Mann Jahan actor implored people to have empathy towards refugees.
“We must care because more than half of the refugees are kids. A lot of them came unaccompanied, without their mothers or fathers… a lot of them were even born here. They are our future, every child in the world is,” she said.
“No one chooses to be a refugee. No one chooses to leave their home.”
4. On violence against women
Another case that left people in utter despair was when the Lahore High Court acquitted a man who allegedly stabbed his classmate, a woman named Khadija Siddiqui, 23 times in broad daylight. The Verna actor has kept in touch with Siddiqui ever since her case surfaced, and has been vocal about supporting the law student in her fight for justice against the powerful and corrupt.
“And if it is the game of power, then so be it. Because there is nothing more powerful than when people come together united for a cause against those in power. We are with you @khadeeeej751 #justiceforkhadija”
5. On solidarity with all women
Despite being a terrible year for women’s safety (as every other year, who are we kidding!), Pakistani women maintained their feat of breaking stereotypes. Pakistan International Airline broke the internet by releasing a video of the first female pilots to ever take a flight to Gilgit.
In a show of solidarity, Mahira gave a shout-out to the badass duo, saying she cannot wait to fly with them.
“Maryam and Shumaila, can’t wait to fly with the both of you! Heart swells up with pride!!!”
On a separate occasion, Mahira also shut down trolls, including her actor friend Hamza Ali Abbasi, when they were having a field day trolling Prime Minister Imran Khan’s former second wife Reham Khan after her biography was leaked online, in which she had accused the premier of being a womaniser.
In his tweet, Abbasi had spoken in support for the PM, praising his first former wife Jemima Khan, and putting down Reham and Ayesha Gulalai, a politician who accused the current premier of sexual harassment.
“How about – just be like @Jemima_Khan. Period. Sets a pretty good example for men and women both,” she said, dropping the mic.
6. On mental health
The Bol actress was also chosen to serve on the board of advisors for an organisation working on mental health awareness. As reports of suicide incidents rise in Pakistan, Mahira continues to urge people to destigmatise mental health challenges and take proactive measures to address the issue.
The actor was visibly upset when news of a university student killing herself in Lahore broke earlier in November.
“When will we start taking mental health seriously? When will we stop calling people mad or ridicule them for how they feel? We need counselors in schools. Not just for students. We need to educate parents and teachers!!” Mahira implored.
7. On #MeToo
This year, a lot of Pakistani started speaking up of the horrors they experienced at the hands of sexual harassers and abusers, including those who are an open secret among the movers and shakers of the country. As expected, the outspoken condemnation and open conversation regarding sexual harassment, and associated crimes, in a deeply misogynistic and chauvinistic country were not welcomed.
As more an more victims came forward, people jumped to blame them, especially Pakistani men who are ever-so-rattled by the reality that women are not having any of it anymore.
“The sick mentality of those commenting on an issue as serious as sexual harassment as casually as they are just shows where the root of this problem exists – in our minds. We will continue to breed harassers for as long as we continue to desensitise this issue,” Mahira said in her tweet.
Though the Humsafar actor has no plans of treading on a path to politics, in an interview with BBC Urdu she said she only speaks up because she feels the need to do it.
After all, what is left of an artist if they don’t turn a few heads?
Happy Birthday Mahira! We’re celebrating you today!