Some Hindu-Americans are outraged, as are some other Indian-Americans, about Season 3, Episode 5 of “Quantico” a series which revolves around FBI recruits who have staved off all kinds of threats to America over the last two seasons.
Aired on June 1, this particular episode, as is revealed near the end of the segment, is about a plot engineered by India to carry out a nuclear attack on NYC and pin it on Pakistan in a bid to scuttle the “Kashmir Summit” that Washington is extremely keen to see succeed.
It created a storm on Twitter and other social media, not just in India but also in the U.S. with accusations flying about Chopra, who plays FBI agent Alex Parrish, being unpatriotic and insincere about her love for her country, or participating in stereotyping Hindus in America. And there was even talk of boycotting ABC. Some American Hindus were particularly agitated and rhetoric on social media was high-strung.
Despite the fact that several other actors of Indian origin are in the episode, and the man with his finger on the trigger to set off the nuclear bomb is a renegade Pakistani, Chopra has borne the brunt of the criticism. Adnan Hamaja, a Pakistani Muslim in the segment, is on India’s side because he is seeking vengeance for the murder of his father by bad elements in Pakistan.
One could speculate that Chopra is being targeted to the exclusion of several Indian-American male actors who had roles in this seemingly “anti-India” episode, because her lines in the script, which needless to say she did not write, are the ones that unravel the mystery of who the real plotters are.
In one scene, when several Indian agents/terrorists are shot dead by her crack FBI team, Chopra pulls out the necklace around one of the dead men and says, “It’s a rudraksha mala, a Hindu rosary, the last thing you’d find on a Pakistani operative,” and goes on to make it clearer for the American (and global) audience that, “Indian nationalists are hoping to frame Pakistanis in a mushroom cloud. It will not only scuttle the Kashmir talks, it would put America on India’s side forever.”
Reuters and other news outlets reported the backlash against Chopra ranged from online attacks as well as calls to boycott her work and the brands that she endorses, including South Korean electronics giant, Samsung. Some called on the government of India to censor out the scene where Chopra holds up the Hindu prayer beads as evidence that the plotter is an Indian and not a Pakistani.
On June 7, ABC issued an apology, which from the responses it garnered, did not make the cut for many. “ABC Studios and the executive producers of ‘Quantico’ would like to extend an apology to our audience who were offended by the most recent episode, ‘The Blood of Romeo.’ The episode has stirred a lot of emotion, much of which is unfairly aimed at Priyanka Chopra, who didn’t create the show, nor does she write or direct it. She has no involvement in the casting of the show or the storylines depicted in the series,” ABC said, adding, ” ‘Quantico’ is a work of fiction. The show has featured antagonists of many different ethnicities and backgrounds, but in this case we inadvertently and regrettably stepped into a complex political issue. It was certainly not our intention to offend anyone.”
On June 9, the Bollywood sweetheart apologized. “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.”
In response, a Vamsee Juluri tweeted, “I hope you will help make this a teachable moment & invite your Quantico colleagues to a dialogue with the Hindu & Indian American community which has been fighting racism in Simpsons /Apu, CNN Believer, Textbooks, Academia etc.” And this was a balanced comment compared to some others.
A number of tweets on @HinduAmericans which claims that “3 million Hindus live in the US plus millions more who embrace Hindu ideas of peace, tolerance, yoga, meditation, vegetarianism,” were particularly vitriolic.
“This is a non-apology. It’s not a question of “sentiments…hurt.” You blatantly lied about peaceful Indians, Hindus, and Indian-Americans. You are viciously attacking Indian-American Hindus, who are peaceful, successful people. Why did you do that? Have you no shame?!” asked one.
“What @priyankachopra (sic) is unforgivable. I’m not usually into boycotts, but this time, we need to send a clear message. #BoycottPriyankaChopra and Boycott @ABCNetwork. Target their advertisers. We will not forget this,” said another.
The several other Indian origin actors in the segment include – Vandit Bhatt (The Michael J. Fox Show, Mercy, etc.) who is Jagdeep ‘Deep’ Patel, a new FBI recruit in Season 3; Rajesh Bose who grew up in Pittsburgh, PA, plays Dhruv Khatri, an Indian government official; Shiva Kumar, plays a top Indian security official; Aman Singh Mukar is the unnamed ‘Initiator Man’ making the gadget to set off the bomb; Rasik Ohal as the ‘Indian man’ owner of a tire store in the Bronx; and Kal Parekh, who plays Fahad Harith. None of these actors was targeted or criticized for acting in the episode.
Srujal Parikh, president of the Federation of Indian Associations in the tri-state area, up-braded Chopra for “not thinking it through” when she decided to do this episode. “She has portrayed herself very prominently patriotic wherever she goes. I don’t know how she did this. But I guess money plays a big role. Sounds like a ‘double-role’,” he quipped. Parikh believes Chopra could have refused to do this segment.
Professor of Communication Ramesh Rao of Columbus State University in Georgia, who has written extensively on issues of communalism and Indian politics, as well as on Indian Americans in the South, said the film-makers had turned political correctness on its head with this Quantico episode; that while promising never to portray a Muslim terrorist, they had gone and made an “episode where a Hindu group plans to terrorize Manhattan!”
Suman Raghunathan, executive director of the South Asian American Leaders of Tomorrow, SAALT, which brought out a seminal report on the rise in hate crimes against Hindus, Sikhs, Arabs, Middle Easterners, had a nuanced response.
“We are encouraged by the decision of a media and cultural entity to decide to counter the prevailing and usual conventional portrayal of Muslim communities alone and unique as communities that are responsible for terrorist and potential terrorist activities, particularly at a time when those that are perpetrating acts of domestic extremism or terrorism are increasingly rooted in white supremacist groups,” Raghunathan told Desi Talk. When asked if by that token, it was acceptable to target another religious minority, Raghunathan said, “Hindus are not particularly portrayed as doing acts of terrorism or extremism in (American popular) media and culture.”
For SAALT, she said, “The broader need as a non-media organization is — no (actor/character) in popular culture should be seen as representative of the community. In this instance, it is certainly not good that Hindus should be portrayed as such,” Raghunathan said.
Rao contended that Hindus did not have any history of terrorizing others and had no concept of ‘jihad’ and chastised American media for being politically correct with one group and not others. “This barely masked hatred for Hindus has its consequences, as I can see how Hindus are depicted in school and university textbooks, caricatured in the media, and browbeaten in the editorials of The New York Times,” Rao said, adding that because Hindus do not have an umbrella group to protest and is a “truly diverse community” the “mischief makers” have seen diversity not as a strength but a weakness. “We have allowed ourselves to be maligned. This has to stop,” Rao said.
Meanwhile, on Twitter, a Gaurav C. Sawant, echoed Rao’s views. “Quantico will never feature a Muslim Terrorist”. But the chaps have no shame in connecting the Rudraksh (Hindu rosary as they call it) & Indian nationalists to terror. (Glad the producers apologized but ”Indian nationalists” must remain vigilant to expose such elements)”
David Frawley, an American Hindu and a prolific Tweeter who had declared that no Pakistani actress would act in the role against her country like Chopra did, went on to say, “Glad to know my comments on the misleading Hindu Terror show on Quantico helped bring about an apology from ABC. No justification for such politically distorted programs against Hinduism, only provokes anti-Hindu prejudices.”
The Times of India in a June 8 report, described critics of Chopra and the episode as “hypernationalist trolls” who were “furious” at Chopra.