By Asra Haque
In her third cross examination today in the defamation suit filed against her daughter Meesha Shafi by Ali Zafar, actress Saba Hameed was asked by the plaintiff’s counsel about her own experiences of being sexually harassed.
In the court of Additional Sessions Court Judge Khan Mehmood, the hearing commenced with Hameed confirming to Zafar’s counsel that Shafi had told her of being sexually harassed by the plaintiff prior to attending a dinner hosted by actress Iffat Omar. At this, advocates Hasham Ahmad Khan and Muhammad Umer Tariq Gill, who represented Zafar, produced a screenshot of Hameed’s Instagram, where she had posted a photo of the dinner with her, Shafi and Omar in frame with the caption “Lovely time”.
Hameed confirmed she posted the photo with the aforementioned caption.
Advocate Gill then referred to Hameed’s cross-in-chief, pointing out that the witness had recorded that Meesha Shafi was embarrassed enough not to disclose such an incident to Hameed although she is her mother. Furthermore, she fully understood her daughter’s as throughout her life, she too never told her own mother of the times she had been sexually harassed.
“Per this statement, does that mean you were also sexually harassed and never disclosed this to your mother?” Zafar’s counsel questioned.
“Like every woman who has been sexually harassed at some point in her life, so was I,” she replied.
At this point, the defense counsel objected to the prosecution’s request to take the name of the person(s) who harassed Hameed, as it was not relevant to the case. The judge however overruled the objection, pointing out that the witness had mentioned being sexually harassed in her cross-in-chief.
In response to the question, Hameed provided that women in general are sexually harassed.
“This is not a secret,” she told the court. “I am talking about what happens to 99.9% of women. I am not one of the lucky 0.001% [sic]. My generation was not comfortable in disclosing these incidents, and therefore I am not comfortable disclosing mine.”
She was then questioned about her behavior toward her harassers following her own experience, to which an exasperated and hurt Hameed responded with “I was perfectly normal.”
Upon being asked to define “perfectly normal”, the actress said that sexual harassment is a tricky subject. She said that women are harassed on the roads, in markets, on public transport, in social gatherings, in the family, by servants, etc.
“It is very difficult to react when it happens to a person you are friends with or know well,” she stated. “You do not react immediately and act normal no matter what you are going through on the inside.”
Hameed was asked to confirm that the incidents of sexual harassment she had faced were not “memorable” but rather traumatic experiences, to which she replied in the affirmative. In response to another query, the witness told the prosecution that Shafi had informed her of three separate instances of being sexually harassed by Zafar. This included the incident Shafi alleged at a jamming session with Zafar, which Hameed told the court must have been a traumatic experience for her daughter.
She was presented with a screenshot of a WhatsApp group chat in which Shafi had shared a picture of her and the plaintiff on December 23, 2017 (a few days after the alleged sexual harassment incident had occurred at the jamming session), accompanied with the message “Hectic but memorable, and so grateful for the kind words Ali had to say on stage.”
Hameed said she had seen the picture before, but admitted that she did not know whether Shafi shared the picture with the aforementioned message on WhatsApp as she was not a part of the group chat.
Hameed confirmed that she was, however, Shafi’s Facebook friend. When presented with a screenshot of Shafi’s Facebook profile where she shared the same picture of her and Zafar she had initially shared in the WhatsApp group, the actress said she might have seen the post, but cannot recall every post, especially one from four years ago.
The witness told the court that she had been the one to initially tell Iffat Omar of Shafi’s sexual harassment incidents, but added that she was not sure whether her daughter had disclosed the same to Omar of her own volition later.
“As far as I know, I was told of three incidents. I am unsure that Iffat was told of two incidents,” Hameed said when Zafar’s counsel pointed out that in her cross examination, Omar had mentioned being informed by Shafi of two incidents. When asked to tell the court whom she thought was lying, as Shafi and Omar spoke of there being two incidents while Hameed said there had been three, the witness stated that all three were speaking the truth.
The plaintiff’s counsel exhibited Shafi’s first print interview regarding her sexual harassment experience to the The News On Sunday’s entertainment magazine Instep, and asked the witness to read it and confirm the number of incidents been mentioned.
Hameed told the court that the article did indeed mention two incidents – the one at the jamming session and another at Zafar’s in-laws’ house.
Following this, the remainder of the cross examination was deferred as both sides presented their arguments regarding Shafi’s request to hold her cross via video-conferencing. Advocate Jilani argued that in light of favourable judgements by the Lahore High Court with regards to conducting video conferencing where the situation permits it, Shafi and her husband should be allowed to be cross examined via Skype or FaceTime as per a prior court order dated December 12, 2020.
However, advocates Khan and Gill rebutted the appeal, stating that as the one who has accused the plaintiff of sexual harassment, and as the sole eye-witness in the case, Shafi’s statement should be recorded in the court as there were far too many technical, geographical, legal and time-zone related hurdles to conduct a cross examination via video conferencing.
After hearing both sides, the judge deferred the remainder of the cross examination to November 19.