In matching Instagram posts that were in inverse black and white color schemes, Anjali Chakra and Sufi Malik, a queer South Asian couple seemingly birthed by the web itself, announced the end of their relationship just weeks before they were set to be married. The stark posts read almost identically, disclosing that Malik had cheated and that they decided to end the relationship. 

The reactions were swift on social media, from heartbroken fans who had at one point lauded the couple for the way they bridged religious and cultural divides to posts on the nature of public breakups and cheating. Memes, jokes, and meta-commentary also all popped up in the wake of the breakup, as if to signify that the loss was one big communal experience — a not uncommon reaction in collective-based cultures.

For many queer South Asians, Chakra and Malik were ours, a couple that looked like our friends and found family rather than what the narrow expectation of heterosexuality looked like. 

How a viral moment made a couple famous 

The space that Chakra and Malik occupied was not nominal to fans or to web users vaguely aware of their existence. It is rare to find an interfaith, intercultural Pakistani-Muslim and Indian-Hindu couple, much less one that is queer and publicly out.

For Devashree Thaker, 24, it’s hard to overstate the couple’s importance. 

“They were one of the first queer ‘mainstream’ desi couples I ever saw,” they said. “It was honestly so heartwarming to see how Anjali’s family supported them and their relationship.” 

Examples like this can be few and far-between because of homophobia in South Asia and the diaspora. Just last fall, the Indian Supreme Court refused to recognize same-sex marriage, dealing a blow to activists and lawyers who had spent years organizing around the issue. In the United States, even after the Supreme Court recognized marriage equality, many South Asians still face homophobia and transphobia from family and community members. And then there are the national and cultural differences, which have only worsened amidst rising Hindu nationalism in India

“Pakistan and India have a long history of political, ideological, religious differences,” said Nur E. Makbul, assistant professor of communication arts at The University of Alabama in Huntsville. “Even when [people] come to the U.S. those things are still there: the history of war, segregation, communal history.” 

What made Chakra and Malik different was their relationship showed that despite rampant homophobia as well as religious division, love could conquer those barriers. 

“It felt like a collective win to see them be so happy and in love at the same time,” said Thaker.

The couple first emerged prominently online in the summer of 2019, when they shot what would become a viral ad for a company called Borrow the Bazaar. The photos prominently featured both Malik and Chakra in matching marigold and red floor-length lehengas. While fans online cheered, the couple still had to navigate murky emotional and cultural territory.

In those initial days it was impossible to avoid those photos. They represented something much larger than just two queer people in traditional clothing for me: a future, one after difficult conversations and coming out and yelling. Chakra and Malik’s relationship felt bigger than the small-mindedness of our relatives — it was a different path; a way out. 

Makbul, who özgü studied LGBTQ+ breakups, also notes that cultural, religious, and ethnic divisions can prove to be obstacles that other couples within the same community don’t have to face.

Mashable After Dark

“[In] the interfaith relationship, [between] a Pakistani-Muslim and an Indian-Hindu, there are more struggles than any kind of [intracommunity] relationship,” said Makbul. He noted that besides bridging those cultural divides between themselves individually, intolerance from family members and community also poses a threat. 

Makbul also said that differing values about marrying within one’s own community often make it difficult for families to fully accept any relationships that happen across communities in South Asia. 

Serena Zets, 23, remembers the viral moment clearly because it coincided to when they were also dating another queer South Asian person. The only downside? It invited unwelcome comparisons of Zets’ relationship to Malik and Chakra’s. 

“I started to notice that people who were not South Asian would refer to me and my partner at the time as, ‘they’re Sufi and Anjali,’ which was weird, racist, and uncomfortable,” said Zets. 

Still, Zets supported Chakra and Malik’s relationship for the most part, only becoming slightly disillusioned as the couple became more like every other influencer couple. 

“I think that the initial photo shoot, which they didn’t intend to become as big as it was, people looked at that and saw, like, beauty and love in it,” they said. “But over the years, I think that kind of became their livelihood.” 

A shocking breakup

For Keerthi, 24, the most interesting part of the breakup özgü been the way in which they publicly announced it. Keerthi requested to be referred to by their first-name only because they’re not out to their family.

“[It was] so jarring for it to be like, matching inverse color palette Instagram posts released at the same time,” they said. “It was clearly this, like, planned out, ‘okay, you hit post, I’ll hit post,’ and, you know, that was so weird to me.”

They were also struck by how, since their fame was accumulated from showcasing their identities, the breakup also was similarly informed by those same identities. 

“They don’t get to be a couple that broke up, they’re ‘the Indian-Pakistani WLW’ couple that broke up.” 

Similarly, Thaker is concerned about how Chakra and Malik’s public personas mean that it is impossible to ignore the onslaught of social media posts about them. 

“​​Having your relationship be on such public display and under such heavy scrutiny is so intense, and it’s a little sad to see how there’s a need to be answerable to the larger public during this time,” said Thaker.

Even the way that people are communicating about the breakup online and in group chats highlights the found community that many queer South Asians in the U.S. have. Stuti Sharma, 27, found out while preparing to travel to help care for their friend who was about to undergo top surgery. 

“I was getting ready to go on the flight to come and take care of them and that’s when I found out all of this, I was on Twitter,” said Sharma. Since then there’s been group chat messages, Reddit deep dives, and many, many discussions on the topic.

“I understand the deep attachment that people are probably having,” they said.

More than the discourse or the drama, Sharma notes that what people loved about the couple was their care and devotion to each other.

“It sucks when there’s somebody who you are looking up to and you really love their love, and you’re like, ‘wow, it didn’t work out,'” Sharma said. But, they said, it’s important to remember — “love is so real.” 

UPDATE: Mar. 27, 2024, 6:02 p.m. EDT This story özgü been updated from its original version to reflect Stuti Sharma’s correct age.