The hypocrisy of the Indian diaspora is overwhelming

Priyanka Chopra is the high priestess of the blinding bourgeois hypocrisy the Indian diaspora has come to typify. Courtesy UN Women / Ryan Brown
24 October, 2022

Earlier this month, the Indian actor and United Nations goodwill ambassador Priyanka Chopra expressed her support for Iranian women who have been removing their hijabs and chanting “death to the dictator” after 22-year-old Mahsa Amini’s death over a dress code violation. Chopra, who now lives in the United States, said she was in “awe” of the women fighting their government. She was immediately criticised for her “selective outrage” and “double standards,” and her deafening silence about a similarly awe-inspiring resistance being waged by India’s Muslim women, who are facing moral-policing under the Narendra Modi government for wearing a hijab.

The incident is, no doubt, revealing of the actor’s politics of convenience, but the larger issue at hand is how they moved in parallel with the growth of her international stature. It is a glance into the psyche of the vast, powerful and wealthy Indian diaspora, which suffers from an intellectual malady: being double-dealing and phoney in India and champions of democratic values as soon as they board an international flight.

Over the past few years, the Indian diaspora has become political—while keeping a safe distance from the storm centre of the toxic right-wing politics it spews—and Chopra is simply the high priestess of the blinding bourgeois hypocrisy it has come to typify. Like Chopra, the larger community of Indian immigrants to the United States and the United Kingdom have been in the news for what they choose to endorse and ignore. Indian-Americans in New Jersey recently apologised after including a bulldozer—now a symbol of anti-Muslim hate—in a parade to celebrate 75 years of Indian independence. The New York Times noted that, “to those who understood its symbolism, it was a blunt and sinister taunt later likened to a noose or a burning cross at a Ku Klux Klan rally.” In September, the diaspora in Leicester and Birmingham went on an angry march, threatening Muslim residents in the area. Wherever the diaspora is concentrated, it is now flexing its muscles to threaten South Asian Muslims. The seeds of hate sown in India have spread like a metastasising cancer, infecting all corners of the world where Indians live.

The real grift, for me, is that Chopra—like the rest of the diaspora—keeps getting away with her delusional self-narrative. As a UN ambassador, she has stood up for everyone from George Floyd to Iranian women while inviting Modi to her wedding reception. She is by no means the only actor with a broken moral compass; Bollywood’s role as a propaganda machine for the Hindu Right recently made it to the New Yorker. But she is among the few who live in a dual reality, code-switching from propagandist to civil-rights champion more easily than one slips in and out of pyjamas. The larger concern—for India, as well as for the world—is the double-dealing of a similar kind that happens not on television channels but in our households, among friends and at our dining tables. The way of common decency is to pay the price for what you stand for, which those of us who live in India are bravely doing. In contrast, the diaspora’s dual reality comes with a moving line of decency: sophisticated when the Western world is watching, and simple-minded and hateful when the concerns are domestic. Words are now tethered to their meanings so loosely they change at will, depending on the audience.