Priyanka Chopra Jonas problematically expresses support for Indian Army as UNICEF Ambassador

Why I was disappointed to find the actress approving of the war between Pakistan and India

Zara Iqbal, Copy editor

As a Pakistani Muslim, I don’t get that much representation in the media — and I mean the good kind where there are other successful Pakistani Muslims I can look up to, not the kind where my people are accused of being terrorists, but that’s not the point. 

Hell, even if I drop “Pakistani Muslim” and use South Asian as an umbrella term, we don’t get represented onscreen often. In all honesty though, it wasn’t that big of a deal for me when I was younger — maybe it was because I was so used to being on the negative side of media representation that seeing someone like me on the big screen was something I didn’t really think about. 

But now, I’ve realized how important it is for people like me to be represented in entertainment and how hard it is for a brown person to break into the industry, which is why I always express my support when I find out about other South Asians in entertainment. I didn’t care that most were Indian because what mattered to me was that someone who looked a little bit like me was being seen by the rest of the world. 

And Priyanka Chopra Jonas wasn’t an exception — admittedly, I wasn’t her biggest fan, but I liked how she seemed to remain humble while being one of the biggest Indian celebrities, that she was proud of her Indian roots while breaking into the American industry and that she was a United Nations International Children’s Emergency (UNICEF) Goodwill Ambassador. 

But that changed when I was scrolling through Twitter and saw this thread on my timeline:

In the video, Pakistani American activist Ayesha Malik confronts Jonas at Beautycon this summer about her tweet from February that expressed support for the Indian Army. (“Jai Hind” is a patriotic slogan in Hindi that roughly translates to “Hail India” or “Victory to India.”) 

If you’re not familiar with what exactly is happening between India and Pakistan, here is a very brief update: conflicts between the two countries escalated in February (when Jonas wrote that tweet) when India conducted airstrikes in Pakistan territory. Pakistan responded with its own airstrikes, and tensions are still ongoing due to territorial disputes over the Kashmir region which have been apparent since the partition. (Here is an informative article that explains the tensions in detail.)

In the tweeted videos, Malik called Jonas a hypocrite for speaking out about humanity and acting as a UNICEF Ambassador while supporting war against Pakistan. While security guards take the microphone out of Malik’s hands, she said, “As a Pakistani, millions of people like me have supported you in your business … and you want nuclear war.”

“Whenever you’re done venting. Done? Okay, cool,” was the first thing Jonas said in response to the confrontation, then proceeded to say that she has Pakistani friends and that war is not something that she is fond of but she is “patriotic.” She ends by claiming that she walks a “middle ground” and in response to that, Malik counters, saying that she loves India as much as she loves Pakistan. “Don’t yell,” Jonas told Malik (who, by the way, got the mic taken away from her, so “yelling” was the only option here). “Don’t embarrass yourself.”

Yeah … a lot to unpack here. When I first saw the thread, I had to watch the videos multiple times because I literally couldn’t believe what I saw: Jonas’ initial tweet, her patronizing attitude towards Malik and using the excuses of patriotism and having Pakistani friends to justify her remarks. Like … what? 

Needless to say, I was pretty pissed. Like Malik, I felt let down. I didn’t understand how Jonas had the audacity and shame to support a whole war and pass it off as “patriotism.” Nationalism does not equal patriotism, and as a UNICEF Ambassador, that’s the exact opposite of the sentiment she’s supposed to express — how can someone promote and work with an organization that helps children devastated by war and proceed to support another war that will inevitably impact other children? 

When Pakistan’s Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari asked for the removal of Jonas as a UNICEF Ambassador because she “undermines the credibility of the UN position to which she has been elevated,” spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General, Stéphane Dujarric, said that as an ambassador, Jonas had the right to speak about personal issues and an ambassador’s “personal views, however, do not reflect those of the agency with which they may be affiliated with.”

Huh, interesting. One would think that to be an ambassador for an organization, your personal beliefs should reflect the agency in question so that you can represent their values in the first place. 

The thing I probably hate most about the whole situation is Jonas’ condescending attitude towards Malik. She accused her of “venting” as though expressing concern over nuclear war was as simple as complaining about a classmate who asked to borrow a pencil and didn’t give it back. She said she has “many, many friends from Pakistan” in the same way a nonblack person insists they can say the N-word because they have black friends.

I really don’t like “cancel culture” and bandwagon hate on celebrities who make mistakes that they can recover from, but in this case, Jonas crossed the line. “Don’t embarrass yourself,” she told Malik. But if anyone should be embarrassed, it’s you, Priyanka.