She Called Out Priyanka Chopra at BeautyCon, and It Went Viral
A beauty influencer challenged the UNICEF ambassador and shed light on the India-Pakistan conflict
On August 10, beauty bloggers, makeup addicts, and celebrities gathered in downtown Los Angeles for Beautycon LA. UNICEF ambassador and international celebrity Priyanka Chopra was on stage during one of the panels when Pakistani American beauty vlogger, Ayesha Malik, called her a hypocrite for her tweet on February 26 in support of the Indian Army. Chopra retorted that she’s a patriotic Indian, asked Malik if she was done venting, and security guards were seen pulling Malik away. The video went viral.
Why is this heated exchange between Chopra and Malik important? India and Pakistan have been long-time rivals since they claimed independence from Britain’s colonial rule in 1947. They’ve fought three wars over the past 70 years; two of the wars have been over the disputed Muslim-majority territory of Kashmir that borders both nations. Both countries are nuclear-war ready and on February 26, a Pakistan-based militant group attacked Indian paramilitary police on the Indian side of Kashmir. This unleashed a fury of military activity between the two governments. Citizens in both countries called for peace. In the midst of this, Chopra tweeted her support for the Indian armed forces.
Her response represents a bigger divide between the South Asian diaspora, especially in light of the recent conflict in Kashmir, where India has sent in 10,000 armed forces and issued a blackout. India and Pakistan are at loggerheads once again.
India and Pakistan on the brink of nuclear war and fighting over the long-disputed territory gets little attention in world news. But a now-viral video of 28-year-old Pakistani American beauty influencer and entrepreneur Ayesha Malik confronting Priyanka Chopra about her views on Indian politics might have clued in thousands to a conflict that is underreported in the news. This includes Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recently revoking Article 370 which granted Hindu-majority Jammu and Muslim-majority Kashmir autonomous rule. After Kashmir’s special status was revoked, the Indian government administered a complete communication and media blackout, tourists were escorted out of the territory, and protests were struck down by the 10,000 Indian troops sent in. We spoke to Malik about the complicated confrontation.
ZORA: Why do you feel like Chopra was egging on nuclear war?
Ayesha Malik: On February 26th, my family was messaging me from Pakistan while I was in Alaska saying, “Hey, we’re getting food and water and shelter. We’re running for the hills. We’re terrified. We’re hearing bombs. There’s threats going on.” I go to Twitter to see what the hell’s going on.
And the first thing I see is Priyanka Chopra, saying Jai Hind hashtag Indian Armed Forces and Jai Hind translates to Hail India. And Pakistan has a saying as well, “Pakistan Zindabad”, which means “Long Live Pakistan” and in the United States, it’s “God bless America.” But on that specific day, saying both of those things, is making a statement that yes, I’m in it for war. Let’s do this. There were many people on both sides that were saying, No, no, stop. We’re scared. But to have someone as big as Priyanka with that global scale that influence that was very frustrating.
I know that there’s many Bollywood stars as well, who also had the exact same hashtag the exact same tweet. But she’s different. She’s Mrs. Jonas, she was in Baywatch. She was on an ABC show. She’s Miss World. She is an international star that has a bigger platform. So people are looking toward her. And when they see her tweeting that — not only does it make Pakistan look like this terrorist state but it also says we should be on the side of India. It ignores the entire problem altogether. We can’t have the dialogue anymore.
You’re at BeautyCon and you see Chopra’s panel. What triggered you to go inside?
So, I’m just passing through the different booths and I see her beautiful face onscreen. She has the microphone. And it was a surreal moment, because you know, I watched a lot of Bollywood films. I couldn’t believe there was a point in my life where I almost considered her like family, because I invited her into my home so many times [through her movies]. And then she said, “I consider myself a humanitarian, we should love our neighbors.” So I’m squeezing my way past people, and I find the guy with the microphone, and I’m like, you Give that to me, please, I need that mic. And in the video, you can see I’m looking out at the crowd first before I speak, and I didn’t see a single face that looked like mine.
I could tell the crowd is not South Asian, and I know that they’re just eating up everything she’s saying, because she is full-on pageant queen right now, with empty promises and statements like it’s all love when you don’t love each other. It doesn’t make sense with who she actually is. So when I said what I said, her response, if you can’t tell, is very different from the entire time she was speaking.
That was the real Priyanka. She was completely raw at that moment, she did not have a PR team in her ear. She said what she wanted to actually say, right? And what is it that she said? She basically did a cop-out. She said, I’m not that fond of war, but I’m patriotic. As a UNICEF ambassador for peace, that is not the correct answer.
As a Pakistani American, what does it mean to you to have Priyanka Chopra as a UNICEF Ambassador?
To have Priyanka be a UNICEF ambassador, she’s supposed to bridge these gaps between us. Because right now, both of our countries are more divided than ever. Partition only happened in 1947. If you look at both countries, we look the same. We eat the same food, we watch the same movies, we speak similar languages, if not the same. I’ve watched Bollywood movies growing up, to learn my language. It was insulting to her position at UNICEF for her to have this divisive language.
Why is it so important for someone like Chopra, to be cognizant of what she’s saying?
India has a population of a billion people. But it’s not just India that watches the movies; all of those from neighboring countries also watch the movies and contribute to the business of Bollywood.
When I got cut off, and my mic got snatched, that’s the part when I got really emotional. Because these Bollywood actors, we really do consider them like a part of our family, we root for them. We watch their movies until we memorize them, their music becomes the soundtrack of our lives. So to hear somebody who I’ve been a fan of, for my whole life, to see a tweet, that she’s not fond of anyone from my side of the border, it hurt.
There was a moment where she got a little cheer from the crowd, and she said, “Thank you, girls.” It was weird that someone like her wanted validation. The entire crowd were her fans; they were not my fans. And I did not need validation, because I know I’m on the right side of history here.
Why did you feel the need to speak up against her at Beautycon? Did you have any reservations about bringing up politics at a beauty industry conference?
After she tweeted on February 26th, there was radio silence from her because everyone was concerned that “Wait a minute, you’re with the UN.” And she didn’t say anything for months and months and months. And I knew she was never going to because everyone’s been tweeting at her like, hey, Priyanka, can you please explain this?
And that’s why I was like, You know what, this is my chance. When am I ever going to be next to her? Here’s that one moment when an American like me could talk to her. And I had no intention to talk politics. She brought it up first. I honestly thought she was gonna talk about her favorite foundation and eyeshadow she was wearing that day. She was the one who brought up humanitarian efforts, and I had to let her know that there was going to be a rebuttal.
What has the social media response for you been like?
I would say the majority of the responses are great but the only people that are actually commenting negative things are Hindu nationalists, which is a very specific group. And they’re just so blinded by their patriotism, that they don’t see that I’m concerned for them. I don’t want nuclear war because they will also die. It’s not going to be pretty.
I’m taking all the heat. My Instagram is completely flooded with rat emojis and people trying to explain Jai Hind to me as if I don’t know the literal translation of it.
I may have made a fool of myself two days ago, being emotional in front of millions. But I brought awareness to Kashmir and that’s all that matters to me.
Your interaction with Chopra also brought a lot of attention to the issue of Kashmir.
As long as I can remember, Kashmir has always been an issue. But it’s never been in headline news. And I may have made a fool of myself two days ago, being emotional in front of millions. But I brought awareness to Kashmir and that’s all that matters to me. It’s a humanitarian crisis. And it’s appalling to see the images that I’ve been seeing online, and I don’t understand why those are not going viral.
Do you consider yourself an activist?
Well, I guess I am because I used to run a nonprofit when I was in college called the Spokane Interfaith Council. The organization would raise awareness about the minority religions that were in the area because Spokane is in 89% White.
Maybe my life is going to take a different turn. A lot of internationalists are commenting that this is my 15 minutes of fame, and that I’m doing this for clout. I really don’t care about being famous.
But the thing is, I can walk the walk. That’s why it’s infuriating that the UN gave a title to somebody who doesn’t even care about the duties of a humanitarian.