Singer Meesha Shafi set the #Metoo ball rolling in Pakistan’s entertainment industry when she tweeted about her colleague, Ali Zafar, harassing her on several occasions. Following her tweet, celebrity Leena Ghani stood by her and pointed out that Zafar had previously crossed boundaries of appropriate behaviour with her as well. Similarly, Maham Javaid, a journalist, reported that her cousin was subjected to sexual harassment when Zafar tried to kiss her and coerce her into a private place with him. It first looked like the movement was gaining momentum because many others joined these brave women and shared their own accounts of sexual harassment in the industry, to name a few, Ayesha Omar and Momina Mustehsan. Furthermore, women of other industries participated in the online #MeToo campaign and brought their narratives forward to become one voice, a stronger voice.

Ali Zafar is a celebrated actor and singer in both Pakistan and India. He is Shafi’s senior colleague and has been around for longer than she has. It is reasonable to conclude that as far as social power goes, Zafar has more of it than any of his accusers, not only because he has been in the industry for quite some time but also because he has made more contributions to the industry. This active kind of social power is one thing, but in the context of Pakistani society and the entertainment industry within Pakistan, Ali Zafar also has social power of a passive nature over his accusers. He possesses a kind of social control principally because he is a man. He was quick to retaliate with a defamation suit against Shafi, accusing her (in return) of slandering his name.

Twitter and blog posts might allude to a divide in public opinion on this matter. There are important people from Zafar’s social circle who have come forward in his support, even women. Some men, but mostly women have been on Shafi’s side, and they are also very vocal about their opinions on Twitter. But the general public is convinced that Meesha Shafi is lying. They are sure of her deception and are not open to giving her any credibility for her testimony.

Miranda Fricker, in her groundbreaking work “Epistemic Injustice: Power and Ethics of Knowing,” coined an important term to explain the injustice and harm of an epistemic nature: testimonial injustice. Simply put, testimonial injustice is when a hearer fails to give due credit to the speaker’s testimony, owing to identity prejudice on the hearer’s part. This means that because the speaker belongs to a minority group, like a woman in Pakistan or a black man in the US, they can be harmed in a way that their testimony will not receive the same credibility as it would have if they were from the majority group. The majority group of a society is one that has social power over the other, structural social power that they have just because of the structural hierarchies of the society or agential social power that agents have because of the role they have in these societies. Fricker elaborates this phenomenon with an excellent example from Harper Lee’s “To Kill A Mockingbird.” In the novel, Tom Robinson is a black man who is accused of raping a white woman. Evidence from the crime scene points towards Tom’s innocence, his own account of what happened at the scene fits well with these proofs, but he is still unable to convey the jury of his knowledge. It is because he is a black man that the jury do not give him the same credibility that they would have if he were white.

Khadijah Siddiqi was stabbed 24 times in 2016 and her attacker was sentenced for a brief period but later his sentence was reduced. Then in June 2018, he was acquitted of his sentence. Finally, in 2019, his sentence was reversed, and justice was served (late and cold). One would think if a person was stabbed 24 times, they would not have such a hard time getting their knowledge across to the court, right? Khadijah knew her attacker, and had been in a relationship with him, but had ended it. In Pakistan’s society, this made Khadijah a woman of loose morals and therefore hard to believe. Despite the outrageous nature of this attack, it took her 3 years, and obviously unimaginable determination and courage, to bring her attacker to justice.

Malala Yousafzai, 14, was shot in the head by the Taliban. She is now an author and a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and is adored and treasured across the world. She has only ever said kind things about the place she was shot at and still calls it home. Yet home maligns her. They believe her attack was staged and consider all her testimonies to be false. The private school federation of her own country proposed an “I am not Malala” Day, and also demanded that her memoir be banned. They distrust her mostly because she is in cahoots with the West. On the other hand, beloved Imran Khan’s election campaigns were generously funded by the West, and he has had even stronger ties with the West considering his relationship with Jemima Khan. But, of course, it is the woman who faces a credibility deficit from Pakistani society. Imran Khan is believed. Even when he says he has renounced his playboy past, he is believed.

It is common knowledge that in Islam a woman’s testimony is half of that of a man’s. Islamic scholars, including Ibn Rushd, have written on this matter and they don’t agree that this should always be the case, but of course, there is some consensus on this claim which is why it used this sweepingly. In Pakistan, this claim is often invoked in religious debates, playgrounds, and such, to remind women of their pre-ordained place in the society. What this proposition means is that a woman will be given half the credibility for her testimony compared to a man. This notion, while controversial in Islamic scholarship, has been welcomed by the Pakistani society. We as a society, do not want to believe our minorities.

Hence, Meesha is failing in getting her knowledge across to the society as well as the courts, and therefore #metoo is losing impetus in Pakistan. She is failing because she is a woman of the entertainment industry, and while he too is a man of the same industry, the parameters are different for him. A woman of the entertainment industry is a woman of loose morals, but not a man. If she was hanging with him then her case grows weaker. Her case goes weaker if she goes to a party, moves to another country, dresses a different way, and the list goes on. The fact that several women have confirmed Ali Zafar’s behaviour should have been enough to believe Meesha but Pakistan is not ready to give women the same credibility for their testimony as they would a man.