Indian actor Poonam Pandey is facing backlash after faking her own death in what she says was an effort to raise awareness for cervical cancer.
The controversy began three days ago, when a statement posted to Pandey's Instagram announced her death.
"This morning is a tough one for us. Deeply saddened to inform you that we have lost our beloved Poonam to cervical cancer," the post said, in part.
But a day later, a video featuring the "dead" actor appeared on her Instagram.
"I'm alive," she said in the video. "I didn't die because of cervical cancer. Unfortunately, I cannot say that about those hundreds and thousands of women who have lost their lives because of cervical cancer."
She went on to say cervical cancer is preventable through HPV vaccination and early detection tests.
But the message was far from well received, as Pandey's comment section was soon filled with criticism.
"Am happy she is alive, but [please] arrest her for this drama and publicity stunt," Instagram user Rakesh Dwivedi wrote.
Another Instagram user, Shanaya, commented, "This is very disrespectful to [those] who have actually lost their loved ones due to cervical cancer. Terrible way to do it."
In a follow-up video, Pandey addressed the controversy.
"I'm sorry to those who I've hurt," she said. "My intention? To shock everyone into the conversation that we are not talking enough about, which is cervical cancer."
"Yes, I faked my demise — extreme, I know," she said. "But suddenly we all are talking about cervical cancer, aren't we?" She added, "I'm proud of what my death news has been able to achieve."
Marketing agency Schbang, which worked on the campaign with Pandey, also spoke out in a statement.
"To start off, we would like to extend a heartfelt apology — especially towards those who have been triggered as a result of having faced/having a loved one face the hardships of any kind of cancer," Schbang said.
"Our actions were driven by a singular mission — to elevate awareness about cervical cancer," it said.
The agency went on to mention that Pandey's own mother battled cancer, saying the disease was personal to her.
Cervical cancer is the second-leading cause of new cancer cases and cancer-related deaths among women in India, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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