Lollywood actor Meera is haunted by the greatest ghost of our colonial past — the English language and how deeply it has embedded itself in our minds as a marker of success and intelligence. She's often the victim of trolls who make fun of her skills as an English speaker, a pastime that ultimately comes from the false perception that speaking the foreign language somehow makes you elite and more sophisticated than others and actor Zarnish Khan is not okay with this at all.
Meera has spoken English in the public eye from time to time, and her proficiency in the foreign tongue isn't the same as a native speaker's. While in a perfect world that would not have been an issue (given that English is not her native language), we don't live in a perfect world and sadly trolls have plenty to say about how the actor speaks the language.
Memes and video clips mocking Meera's English surface on the internet from time to time, nitpicking the actor's accent and grammar. Regrettably, a large number of social media users often validate the mockery by becoming a part of it themselves. Actor Khan recently highlighted one such video on Instagram, snapping back at trolls who feel there's nothing wrong with making fun of someone's English speaking skills.
"Stop it already people!" she wrote on Instagram Stories. "I'm pretty sure all the people who make such memes or cut-out video clips are a bunch of idiots themselves who might not even know how to speak their own mother tongue properly, let alone speak fluent English. Just because you can hide behind the anonymity of the cyber network does not give you the right to make fun of other people," she said.
"Maybe she can't speak well in English but is that a crime? How well do you know this language? Are you ready for an open challenge? I bet you aren't!" she said.
Khan's parting request was to ask people to not be "so shallow".
Khan highlighted a good point — in Pakistan many people seem to see our indigenous languages as inferior and English as superior. English opens doors to gaining the best education in the land — almost all elite educational institutes use English as the language of instruction — and to be well-versed in English is often seen as a sign of being 'educated'.
In many ways, the trolls that pick apart Meera's English are fuelled by systems that put English and English speakers on a pedestal. They might also be fuelled by their own personal traumas of being made fun of for not speaking the language well enough in school, or perhaps not speaking it at all. In 2017, a private school in Sahiwal banned students from speaking Punjabi, declaring it a "foul language".
While these reasons may be valid, this still does not excuse anyone from bullying Meera for the way she speaks English. Bullying, for whatever reason, can have a devastating impact on an individual's mental health and the Lollywood actor is no stranger to this. She was admitted to a hospital for depression in April and became the butt of many jokes, even amongst celebrities such as Frieha Altaf. She recently spoke up about mental health and depression, highlighting how celebrities are "deprived of mental health" in the country and "the industry we are supposed to be stars of".
Ultimately, it is high time we all agree get over our colonial hangover when it comes to English. It's also about we give Meera, and many others, a break from the bullying and mockery. As Khan said, bas kardo.