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Ayesha Malik, Priyanka Chopra, Beautycon, Kashmir
via Twitter (@Spishaa)

Speaking to the woman who confronted Priyanka Chopra over Kashmir

In a now viral video, Ayesha Malik takes the actress and Unicef ambassador to task at Beautycon following tweets supporting the Indian military and nuclear war

Amid an escalating crisis in Kashmir, one of the most volatile regions in the world right now, Beautycon in Los Angeles took place. Actress, Unicef ambassador, and global superstar Priyanka Chopra made an appearance, taking part in a Q&A where she made mention of her activism and humanitarian work. An audience member, Ayesha Malik, confronted her. She asked a question about Priyanka’s support of India’s military; her question was seemingly cut off as the security grabbed her mic. Chopra, who was on stage and surrounded by her adoring fans, responded: “I hear you. Whenever you’re done venting. Got it? Done? Okay, cool… The way you came at me right now, girl, don’t yell. We’re all here for love. Don’t yell. Don’t embarrass yourself.” The resulting video went viral. 

Chopra had previously tweeted in support of the Indian army during a time when India was carrying out airstrikes in Pakistan: it was the first time fighter jets had crossed the treacherous border between the neighbours since they became nuclear powers. It was also the first time since 1971 fighter jets had crossed the unofficial Kashmiri border. In February, when Chopra tweeted, there was a real fear of nuclear war; the global spotlight was on the two nations falling out, yet again, and what that end result could be. 

With Article 370 being revoked last week, tensions are high in the region. That current of instability has spread across the diaspora, and found itself emerging at LA’s Beautycon.

She has seen an increasing amount of pressure put on her since the weekend. Since a photo of her hair went viral, her followers have increased tenfold, resulting in opportunities where she finds herself among influencers and celebrities at events like Beautycon. Malik, a young Pakistani-American woman based in Anchorage, Alaska, has been running a used car dealership with her father and brother for the last four years. Since the confrontation, she says she has been targeted by Hindu nationalists. The spotlight has seemingly shifted from Kashmir onto her; an issue she wanted to address when Dazed reached out to speak to her over the phone.

This is something that I think has been brought up a lot, especially with your confrontation with Priyanka – what does it mean for celebrities to posture themselves alongside a Hindu government, and what do you think that means for its relationship to Pakistan and Kashmir? 

Ayesha Malik: It’s very dangerous when you give celebrities these big titles. I don’t know if anyone noticed in the clip, but there’s a moment when Priyanka pauses when three people clap for her – she wanted that validation so badly, she goes ‘thanks girls’. That was weird, because she was surrounded by literally hundreds of her fans, not mine.  

The reason I wasn’t scared was because I was on the right side of history here. It’s dangerous because these celebrities are not experts. There are so many videos out there on YouTube where Priyanka is talking about ‘my profession is an actress but deep down, I’m a humanitarian’. It’s strange. She just wants the title, she doesn’t actually act on it. I had to call it out, because who she is conflicts with those duties (of) being humanitarian.

Did you go in to the event itself with a premeditated idea to confront Priyanka? 

Ayesha Malik: Definitely not. If I did, I would have been way more eloquent and not emotional.

What’re your current thoughts on Kashmir? 

Ayesha Malik: For as long as I can remember, Kashmir has always been an issue. And I don’t understand why the world has never paid attention to it because I’ve only heard Pakistani’s, Indians, and Kashmiris talk about it. It wasn’t my intention to make this whole thing about Kashmir, but I’ve been concerned my entire life for it. I’m not a voice that represents India, Pakistan, Kashmir. I’m just a voice, a concerned voice. 

“I’m not a voice that represents India, Pakistan, Kashmir. I’m just a voice, a concerned voice” – Ayesha Malik

How do you think we can bring more attention to this moment and this movement? 

Ayesha Malik: I think we need to stop focusing on ‘me vs Priyanka’ because that wasn’t what it was all about in the first place. We need to pay attention to the message, or the message that I was trying to portray before the mic was ripped out of my hands.

A few days on from it, what does it feel like in this moment right now?

Ayesha Malik: I’m upset that there’s still so much attention on me. It should be at the issue at hand. I’ve always had a lot of eyes on me, so the people – specifically Hindu nationalists – (think) I did this for fame, I’ve always had a little bit of fame with me – I had a 92,000 followers before this happened. I have a 170,000 (YouTube) subscribers. If I really was hungry for fame, I would be posting everyday. I would be a YouTube blogger. I sell used cars with my dad and my brother in Alaska. That fulfils me more than being a pretty face online. 

What would you say to the people critiquing your actions?

Ayesha Malik: Some people are taking some tweets that I wrote in the past (that are) pure sarcasm. That’s what Twitter is – you have to be witty and funny to be worthwhile on Twitter. A lot of Hindu nationalists are taking these tweets, critiquing them ,and make it look like I’m the hypocrite here. I’ll take the heat, go ahead and send your hate my way, but while we’re at it, let’s look at what’s going on right now between all of our countries. It’s a mess.