Mega star Priyanka Chopra would not be able to pick me out of a police line-up, yet since June 6, we have been linked nearly 100 times over in the Twitter-verse.
On the early morning of June 6, I awakened to my phone, alerting me to several text messages from my Twitter account. Someone with the Twitter handle @TripRR tweeted at me, including at the bottom of the message the Twitter handle for Vivek Agnihotri, a filmmaker and author, and right- wing Hindu Nationalist:
“Care to explain your wildest fantasy while you wrote Quantico with Indians being masterminds of an attack? Does this stem from a deep- rooted bias, hate, anti-Hindu, pro-islam conditioning of your fragile mind?? Your view matters Do answer @vivekagnihotri”
It took me a moment to understand what was happening and then the other tweets started, not quite pouring in, but dribbling in. They were increasingly hateful and angry.
I had not written for Quantico since 2016, a fact that had escaped these people’s notice. I realized that an episode of the current season of the ABC show must have aired in India and did not sit well with a few Indians, specifically those of the Hindu faith.
“I had not written for Quantico since 2016, a fact that had escaped these people’s notice.”
The plot line of episode five, as I understand it because I have not seen it, involves Indian Nationalists framing Pakistan for a murder in Manhattan. In a fit of pique, @TripRR and others like this person, must have then gone to IMDB and seen my name listed among the credits.
They zeroed in on the one Muslim sounding name, and decided I was the sole mastermind behind this egregious misrepresentation of the Hindu citizens of India. Priyanka Chopra, the star of the show, also did not escape their ire.
While she is being described as a traitor, I am being cast as the Muslim agent of a diabolical anti-Indian/Hindu propaganda machine that is deliberately spreading hate through this show. What was jarring was that he shared my photograph and account. Others shared my Facebook page.
I did, in fact, answer @TripRR, explaining I was no longer on the show and had not been for over a year. I also went ahead and described what my “wildest fantasy” was since he seemed so keen to know. I said, “my wildest fantasy: a world where people are not divided by religion, or by bigotry and nationalism doesn’t mean one group is superior over another. That we can respect and admire the diversity of India. I’m Bengali and very proud of my original Hindu roots.”
@TripRR has yet to answer. This person’s lack of regard for the truth brings up a more worrisome issue: an increasing dismissal of the facts in order to foment discord and push forth an agenda. This is not unique to India, or one group of people and not even unique to the right leaning groups of a society. There is also a pervasive nonchalance about the potentially violent and damaging results of disregarding the truth and promoting lies.
“There is also a pervasive nonchalance about the potentially violent and damaging results of disregarding the truth and promoting lies.”
The tweets reinforcing the fact that I have nothing to do with the recent episode still hold no currency for folks insistent upon framing me and Muslims in general as anti-Hindu agents. Someone named Rakesh Giri Goswami tweeted: “In the eyes of people like Sharbari killing of Hindus is not genocide, but a religious right in all Muslim countries.”
How does one get to a point where they are flouting the truth and conflating a fictional show with promoting genocide? But it is emblematic of where former bastions of democracy are headed, rather, have already arrived.
ABC has since issued an apology for the episode. By doing so, they are effectively saying bullying works, the mob mentality prevails, and faith-based hate directed at certain groups is allowed as long as it doesn’t affect their bottom line. As of yesterday, Priyanka Chopra tweeted an apology: “I’m extremely saddened and sorry that some sentiments have been hurt by a recent episode of Quantico. That was not and would never be my intention. I sincerely apologise. I’m a proud Indian and that will never change.”
My responsibility as a writer is to continue to resist the erosion of truth telling and not exempt any group, including those with whom I identify, who espouse bigotry, injustice and discord, from criticism and accountability, even if it incites their displeasure.
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Sharbari’s fiction has appeared in The Gettysburg Review, The Asian Pacific American Journal, Catamaran, Caravan Magazine, Inroads, and Wasafiri among others and is forthcoming in Painted Bride Quarterly and Roanoke Review. She was on the writing team for Season One of the TV series, Quantico on ABC. Most recently she wrote the screen adaptation of Mitali Perkin’s YA novel Rickshaw Girl.