When Coldplay came out with Hymn for the Weekend, India had a fairly strong reaction: India kind of hated it. When you think about it, Coldplay did what white dudes and white people and the patriarchy does— select the best parts, the exotic parts, the parts that are vastly different because culture is different.
While choosing what is different from your culture in another culture is okay to choose, the way you do it is what matters. Culture is not separate from context. American culture does not materialize the way it does in the USA in India. As a result, the way American culture is understood in India is radically different from what American culture actually is. Similarly, what Indian culture is and how it is understood outside the context of India are two completely different things. Both are important and remain rightfully separate because what something is inherently and how it is understood are two different things.
Moreover, cultural appropriation has at its core a principle element: power. The reason why India’s youth is infuriated by India’s cultural appropriation is because it is a blatant display of power through a very specific effort put into handpicking elements of Indian culture and displaying it as all of Indian culture. It is stereotypes translated into making people believe it is the absolute reality. In doing this careful nitpicking, experiences and significant foundational elements of Indian culture are ignored, reducing India to a place where poverty is all around and yet, there are little, soot-covered children running around throwing colour at each other without a care in the world.
Above all, India’s cultural appropriation brings about anger because it devalues the experiences of young Indians growing up in an India that is changing, modernizing and truly keeping up with the times. India’s cultural appropriation sets it back when as a country, it is changing, albeit slowly. If you want to show off Indian culture, understand that there is more to it than colors and loud weddings. Culture is tied to context and it is experience itself. Don’t reduce it down to snippets of an imagined reality by people who haven’t actively lived that experience.