Yes, I’m the girl who, during a panel at BeautyCon LA last week, asked Priyanka Chopra about her “Jai Hind” tweet.
To some, the tweet, a clear sign of solidarity with the Indian military while tensions rose with Pakistan, may seem harmless, but timing is everything. Imagine having one of the loudest voices in your country. Now imagine using that voice to bring hostility between people instead of building bridges.
It may seem weird that geopolitics to took front and centre stage at a conference designed for beauty products, so I’ll give a little context here.
I’d known Chopra, once a celebrity I’d admired, would be at BeautyCon. I had gone with the intention of connecting with old friends and supporting influencer “meet and greets”. When I arrived at BeautyCon, the situation in Kashmir was unfolding on an international scale, but I was not expecting to have it be made so real and personal. Chopra indirectly brought it up first.
Little did I know, I’d soon be standing up in front of those very people, challenging something that Chopra had done some months before. It was hard for me to see someone who had publicly supported military action sit on stage like a beauty queen, so far removed from the real situation in Kashmir and her actions on Twitter.
To make things clear, I did not plan the questions. I was just walking by and I heard her say, “we should love our neighbors”. I had to say something. She claimed to be patriotic – but in reality, she was being nationalistic. And that’s dangerous, not just for celebrity advocates, but especially for the billions of people who live on the Indian subcontinent. They will be the first ones to feel the results of escalated military tensions from both sides.
Kashmir is a hotly contested region in South Asia, claimed both by India and Pakistan. For decades, this area of the globe has teetered on the brink of war between nuclear powers who are suspicious of one another. In recent weeks, the situation has gotten closer to the brink of war due to aggression on both sides.
This transcends more than BeautyCon or UNICEF ambassadorships. This is about calling out hypocrisy from our leaders and public figures. In today’s world, we are becoming more and more desensitized by a constant stream of people saying one thing and doing another. From those on Twitter, the talking heads on the news and even to the White House, it is apparent that things are shifting so radically that it's hard to keep up.
It’s time we do something about Kashmir. It’s time we called out those inauthentic statements and actions because that’s what we need in order to heal our broken world.
As writer Arwa Mahdawi pointed out earlier this week, the lack of trust in institutions has created a vacuum where celebrity advocacy is filling the gap. I think this is dangerous because when a celebrity speaks out, no matter what they say for whatever cause, there is a lack of accountability that exists when organizations and institutions are unable to back up their comments.
We need to remember that our individual voices are more powerful than we think, and it doesn’t matter whether you’re speaking truth to power at BeautyCon or at the UN, because speaking the truth is something we can do anywhere. We can do it from our homes, or on the streets of Sringar, like Niha Masih, a reporter for the Washington Post, or Devyjot Ghoshal a correspondent for Reuters, both of whom are sharing in realtime what the situation looks like.
So, what is stopping us from reminding those with privilege and power to do their jobs? What is stopping us from calling out leaders for not living up to our expectations? Maybe it’s the fear of the social media backlash. The prospect of gaslighting or being minimized with snide comments is very real and happens all the time.
By focusing on influencers and actresses we lose important voices and perspectives in the shuffle. We lose what’s really going on and miss out on accurate and authentic stories that would only help us understand one another more clearly. You know, like what I imagine the role of a UNICEF ambassadorship would encompass.
I grabbed that microphone not to shame someone, or take credit or the spotlight away from the people really promoting peace, but to point out that the comments and actions of a UNICEF ambassador — a title meant to advocate for peace over national identity and allegiances — should be in line with their duties, not their personal allegiances.
I am no one special, but I do have a voice and I know when someone is being inauthentic. If enough of us find the courage to hold our leaders accountable then we can begin to change the narrative. Perhaps others will be inspired to do the same.