Ayesha Omar on conquering fears, having hope despite all odds

Ayesha Omar, who plays a police officer in the highly-anticipated thriller film Javed Iqbal: The Untold Story Story of a Serial Killer opposite Yasir Hussain, recently sat down for an interview with a local publication. The actor shed light on her own views regarding sexual harassment, as well as her experience with it in the past. The Karachi Se Lahore actor also spoke about her childhood and growing up in a single-parent household.

Speaking about her early years, she revealed, “My father passed away when I was less than two-years-old. My mother was a single parent, so I felt the bumps in the road early on in life. I was fortunate enough to get a scholarship to Lahore Grammar School, which is the most prestigious school for girls in the city, and be admitted there. We couldn’t have afforded that education otherwise because we weren’t very stable during my childhood. There was no help from the family either. I was studying in a school with very rich kids, while I came from a family focused on necessities.”

Explaining how her lack of financial resources led to her excelling in other facets of her life, Omar shared, “I wanted to prove that you don’t need to be coming from a home filled with luxuries to be doing well. So, I was on top of my class, I’d be part of every school activity. I did theatre, puppets, dance, everything. So, I had that drive in me, which I guess came from the trauma I faced. Maybe it was a way of getting acceptance and approval.”

Trigger warning!

On how, after stepping into her career, she was faced with many difficult situations, the Bulbulay star reflected, “The biggest bumps came during my professional life. The people who I respected and considered my seniors, the kind I expected to offer me protection in times of need, were the ones who turned their backs and hurt me. I was sexually harassed at a very young age. It happened early on in my childhood, and then later in my career as well. People would delay my payments. I had no one to back me up. I’d go and collect my payments on my own. Back then, social media wasn’t a thing so no one was worried about getting exposed. There are so many people who still haven’t paid me my fair share.”

Elaborating on her experience of sexual harassment, she added, “It wasn’t a one-off incident. It was at a workplace of mine where I was a salaried employee. This was when I was a fresh graduate. When it happened, I was like, ‘What?’ It was a shock. I asked myself what was happening, what was that person doing, how was that acceptable? You wonder if it’s happening to other people. At the time, there was a lot of shame attached to these things, and also a lot of fear.”

She continued, “If you were to expose a person in a position of authority and who was much older, you fear that they would harm you in other ways. That person can be vindictive. We’ve seen recently the amount of social ostracisation, backlash and trauma a victim has to face if they choose to speak up. I will always give the victims the benefit of the doubt, whether men, women or children.”

Narrating another incident where she made it a point to get her disapproval across, Omar shared, “There’s a person who has been in this industry for a very long time, who was been a director as well as actor, he met me somewhere and said something very condescending about me in public. I called him later on and told him that I couldn’t speak to him earlier, but that I didn’t like what he said and that it was very disrespectful. He asked, ‘Is this why you called me?’ and when I said yes, he shut the phone. I had to state my boundaries.”

In 2016, Omar was in a car accident with fellow actor Azfar Rehman and their driver on the Karachi to Hyderabad highway. Reflecting on the incident, she explained, “When I got into an accident, I faced my greatest fears of getting into an accident and that someone would come and kidnap and sexually abuse me, which felt worse than death. When it happened, the fear amalgamated.”

She continued, “I was on the highway at the time, and I was in the middle of the road lying there, and a car stopped. A group of six to seven men got out… I have three to four broken bones so I couldn’t move, but I wasn’t bleeding. I was conscious and in shock and was screaming in pain. They came towards me to help but I was scared that they were going to come and sexually assault me. It happened recently with another woman. I had that fear six years ago… I remember bracing for the worst and praying to God to just kill me.”

Sharing how the situation was not what she had feared, the actor asserted the importance of believing in the goodness in people. She said, “But, they were just trying to help… that’s when I realised you cannot let your fears take over your life. Prepare for the worst but you have to believe in a positive outcome.”


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