The Straits Times/Asia News Network
Actress Priyanka Chopra at the 89th Academy Awards - Oscars Vanity Fair Party in California on February 27, 2017. U.S. television studio ABC has apologized to Indian fans of its crime drama 'Quantico' after a terrorist plot sparked online outrage against Chopra. (REUTERS/File photo/Danny Moloshok)
When actress Priyanka Chopra stepped on stage recently to speak in Los Angeles at Beautycon, a cosmetics industry event, she might have been prepared to answer questions about her self-care regimens, her husband (pop star Nick Jonas), unreasonable standards to which women's bodies are held or her humanitarian work with Unicef.
What she surely did not anticipate was a confrontation by a Pakistani-American woman who accused her of being a "hypocrite" for tweeting support for the Indian army.
The exchange between Chopra and Ayesha Malik, a 28-year-old beauty influencer from Anchorage, Alaska, took place during what was billed as a "fireside chat" with Chopra.
After the floor opened to questions from the audience, Ms Malik criticised Chopra over a Feb 26 tweet that read "Jai Hind" ("Long Live India") and "#IndianArmedForces".
The tweet came at a time of heightened tensions between Pakistan, which is majority Muslim, and India, which is majority Hindu.
"It was kind of hard hearing you talk about humanity because as your neighbour, a Pakistani, I know you're a bit of a hypocrite," Ms Malik said. "You're a Unicef ambassador for peace and you're encouraging nuclear war against Pakistan. There's no winner in this."
While she was speaking, Ms Malik's microphone was taken away.
Chopra asked if Ms Malik was done "venting" and then responded that while she does not support war, she does support India. "I have many, many friends from Pakistan, and I am from India, and war is not something I'm really fond of, but I am patriotic," she said.
On Feb 14, a suicide bombing by an Islamic militant killed dozens of Indian soldiers in Kashmir, a contested region between India and Pakistan. India accused Pakistan of being behind the attack and responded with a Feb 26 airstrike near the Pakistani town of Balakot.
Chopra's tweet was in response to the airstrike.
Ms Malik, an influencer known for her lush head of dark curls, said she did not attend Beautycon to confront Chopra. But she added that while she was walking by the main stage, she heard Chopra discussing her humanitarian work and it struck a nerve.
Ms Malik said her extended family lives in Lahore, Pakistan's second-largest city, and she feared for the safety of her relatives as tensions escalated.
"The reason it was more upsetting seeing Chopra's tweet compared with the hundreds of other Bollywood actors who also tweeted word for word the same thing, was because she's Mrs Jonas, she's Miss World, she's in Baywatch, she was in Quantico," Ms Malik said.
For her, confronting Chopra was a return to her roots as an activist. While getting her undergraduate degree at Eastern Washington University in Cheney, Washington, she worked with the Spokane Interfaith Council, which helps religious minorities in the wake of hate crimes.
"I did not do this for fame. I've always had an audience and I never utilised it because I literally don't care," Ms Malik said. "What I said, I said it because if I didn't, nobody else would have."
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