Priyanka Chopra's comment on Sikkim shows how we see Northeast as one block

The actor has been working in laudable cinema, but her flippant utterance is symptomatic of a larger problem.

 |  6-minute read |   14-09-2017
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Priyanka Chopra has been working in, producing and generally associating herself with significant cinema, whether of Indian origin or of foreign make. She's produced Pahuna, a film based on two kids in Sikkim, and tells a story of refugee crisis from children's point of view, according to reports. At the Toronto International Film Festival, where Pahuna was screened, Chopra was heard saying that "Sikkim is troubled with insurgency". As a result, PeeCee is being trolled online.

"You dense, ignorant imbecile," screamed a tweet from a hurt citizen of India, because, as it happens, Sikkim, Doklam crisis notwithstanding, remains one of India's most peaceful states. Tiny and pristine, it's known to be a tourist attraction, and not a site of conflict, internal or external. Yes, the skirmish with China over Doklam trijunction made global headlines for over 70 days, but ordinary people of Sikkim weren't perturbed in the least. In fact, the hurly burly of Indian and Chinese media descending on Doklam for the coverage, perhaps, made curious Sikkim denizens look up the crisis on Google at their internet cafes.

priyanka690_091417042941.jpgIf global ambassadors like Priyanka Chopra are unable to tell the history of the regions they are minting to make supposedly meaningful cinema, what hope is there for ordinary Indians?

But Chopra spoke of "insurgency troubled Sikkim" at a global film festival, a prestigious one at that, while promoting her film based on Sikkim. How is it that she is completely off the mark on one of India's most peaceful states? Or, is it that she has confused Sikkim with Manipur, the state that is indeed troubled with insurgency, or perhaps Assam, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh, which have sustained historical and political problems, given that "they all look the same"?

Of course, Chopra is facing flak online, particularly on Twitter where she's active.

But it's a wider problem really, and sad that Chopra, who's otherwise quite well-versed and often forthcoming and frank in her outlook on Indian politics, was caught with her foot in the mouth. It's upsetting that Chopra sees the whole of Northeast as one homogenous block of undifferentiated peoples and cultures, history and politics, but is she the only one who makes comments as flippant as this?

Not really. In fact, the word "chinki" is a slang that many from the seven sister states live with everyday, facing discrimination when they are in cities such as New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Pune, Bangalore, Hyderabad and others. This is also a peculiar problem that north Indians have when they display casual disregard for any other regional block, whether it's south India, east India or the north-east of India. Unable to tell between Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam remains an issue most just brush under the carpet, as they impose the "national(ist) language" Hindi on each and every one of India's billion plus people.

Chopra has now apologised for the silly comment, but not before the famous footballer Baichung Bhutia said that the people of his state are deeply hurt by PC's comments. In fact, Bhutia is doing a cameo in the film, Pahuna, and PC's words must have hurt not so much for its inaccuracy, but for the systemic and casual ignorance of non-metropolitan India that it betrays.

In fact, Bhutia wrote in a Hindustan Times piece:

"I am surprised that Priyanka made this comment because she is one of the best and intellectually sharpest actresses, and she speaks sensibly. It could be that someone fed her with wrong information about the state. In fact, I am doing a cameo in her new movie, Pahuna, which got standing ovation at TIFF.

Sikkim is one of the most politically peaceful states of the country and the credit for it goes to the people of the state. Sikkim became a part of India in 1975. My father was born much before that and his generation was emotional about the annexation. But then to the credit of his generation, they did not make it a festering political issue though such things have happened elsewhere in the world. Look at the protests in Hong Kong today.

When I went on to captain India and it was seen as a great honour. Today every Sikkimese genuinely feels that they are part of India. Other than being politically peaceful, Sikkim is also one of the greenest states of the country and the people across the board are hospitable.

It is true that parts of Northeast are violence-hit but all states are not. One of the main reasons why people from 'mainland' India tend to lump all states together is because of a lack of awareness towards the region. But the situation is improving because more and more young people from the region are going to other parts of India to work, study and people-to-people contact is increasing."

If global ambassadors like Priyanka Chopra are unable to tell the history of the regions they are minting to make supposedly meaningful cinema, what hope is there for ordinary Indians, now saddled with majoritarian politics of the unkindest type? Unless renowned faces like Chopra wear inclusive and pluralist India well, understand and breathe the diversity and not just touch and go, how will those youngsters who hold these filmstars in high regard, learn to appreciate the staggering diversity of India, their homeland?

Perhaps, Chopra could be creative and more invested in the places she chooses to depict in her own films from now on.

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