In the most recent social media storm, we see Pakistani film actor Hania Aamir. Of late, she is much the rage thanks to having bagged notable projects in a short time, namely Janaan and Na Maaloom Afraad 2. And yet, on this seemingly innocuous occasion, she seems to be the one causing the rage. Her case isn’t simple. It is indeed something that media practitioners should ponder over given the consequences of such an action.
Hania — known to be quite active over social media — had been on her way to Lahore on a flight for a promotional event recently and happened to post some videos on her Snapchat as she often does. Unfortunately, in one particular snap, she tried to include an unidentified male passenger seated behind her in the frame of her camera. “This dude is struggling to get out of my photo,” reads the caption of the snap.
In further comments, Hania writes: “Every time I try and take my photo, he’s, like, struggling to get out of it. Wait, let’s see!” The actor then poses and brings the man in the frame, although he is visibly uncomfortable and trying to stay out of it. He then averts his eyes and Hania goes on to say, “Okay, I’m gonna wait. Come on, do it.” And right on cue, the man uneasily turns his gaze again.
This whole drama may have taken place on a one-and-a-half-hour flight to Lahore, the real storm raged on social media shortly after. A report in this newspaper said that Twitter seems to be livid over her snap. One user, who also shared the snap, pointed out that the actor is clearly harassing the innocent passenger. “Why is no one talking about this? She is violating his personal space and clearly, he’s uncomfortable being in her pictures but instead of stopping, she’s enjoying and making fun of it. THIS IS NOT OKAY.” He further added, “If this was a man doing it, and a lady as a subject, it’d have been rolled out very differently.”
Both these points are valid. The first question that needs to be asked is whether a plane cabin is a private or a public space. Most airlines seem to think that the cabin is a private space. In fact, there have been instances where airline staff have been sacked for displaying pictures of themselves in the cabin with or without passengers on the Facebook page and other social platforms. In the understanding of the airline, the cabin is an office space for the crew and any picture taken of an office has to be cleared before it can be shared.
In fact, airlines on international flights, especially in the West, are quite antsy about pictures being taken in the cabin without the knowledge of the crew. You can take a selfie of yourself but not of the galley or any part of the aircraft that can be described as “equipment.” American laws cover any action taken under this. As it is, when the aircraft is flying at several thousand feet in the air, jt is the flight stewardess who determines the law and not any enforcement agency. For example, not cooperating with the cabin crew in itself now an offence on most flights.
Now to the poor man who did not want his image in Hania Amir’s selfie. He has every right to feel uncomfortable. But could we classify this as harassment? “Imagine if this was done by a man and the one in the back was a girl… just imagine” wrote one Muhammad Ibrahim. “The same scenario in role reversal won’t be that fun, ma’am. In a private space, the man has a case for defamation. He was in a private space and himself, as it seems, was not a public figure.
Culturally, observers are right when they point out that had the victim been a woman, there would have been hell to pay. That is actually not a bad thing. Thanks to the ongoing debate over harassment, it is good that people are seeing it like this. At the same time, for a man to claim that he was being harassed by such a picture would be a stretch. This isn’t about equality; it is also about cultural sensitivities. And yes, defamation.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 13th, 2017.