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A Bollywood film actress and model who faked her own death to highlight the dangers of cervical cancer and to promote the HPV vaccine is now being sued for the stunt.

A post on Poonam Pandey’s Instagram page on Feb. 2 stated that she had died from cervical cancer, with her team confirming the news to the media. Her manager, Nikita Sharma, stated the star had “bravely fought the disease” but had “tragically passed away,” according to NDTV India.

However, the following day, Pandey, 32, posted a video of herself revealing she was alive and well and that the death announcement was a ruse to raise awareness about the potentially fatal disease.

The move sparked uproar online, with the overwhelming majority of commentators slamming Pandey for her actions.

Bollywood actress, Poonam Pandey seen during media interaction in Mumbai.

Poonam Pandey, a Bollywood film actress and model, faked her own death via a social media post on Friday to raise awareness about the potentially fatal disease and for women to get vaccinated. (Ashish Vaishnav/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

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“I’m alive, I didn’t die because of cervical cancer,” Pandey told her 1.3 million followers, as poignant music played in the background. 

“Unfortunately, I can’t say that about the hundreds of thousands of women who have lost their lives because of cervical cancer. I’m here to tell you that, unlike other cancers, cervical cancer is preventable, all you have to do is get a test and you have to get HPV vaccine.”

“We can do all this and more to make sure there are no more lives lost to this disease,” she added.

She then directed her followers to log onto a specially designed website – www.poonampandeyisalive.com – which was packed with information on the deadly cancer and the vaccine designed to prevent it. The website and her Instagram posts relating to her fake death have now been deleted.

Cervical cancer visualized by sagittal MRI, papillomavirus infection is often the cause.

Cervical cancer visualized by sagittal MRI, papillomavirus infection is often the cause. (CAVALLINI JAMES/BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

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Pandey and her husband Sam Bombay are now being sued for more than $12 million by Faizan Ansari, according to The Times of India. Ansari is an actor and reality TV star.

The lawsuit alleges Pandey and Bombay orchestrated a “false conspiracy of death” and trivialized serious illnesses like cancers for their own publicity gains.

Ansari argues that the couple’s actions betrayed the trust of millions of Indians and also tarnished the reputation of the Bollywood fraternity.

The lawsuit demanded the couple’s arrest and called for them to appear in court to face defamation charges.

Pandey’s initial death post came a day after India’s finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced plans for a cervical cancer vaccination program for girls aged 9 to 14 as part of her interim budget in 2024, according to NDTV. Cervical cancer arises from the cervix, which is the lower part of the uterus in the female reproductive system.

Cervical cancer is ranked as the most frequent cancer in women in India, with around 365 million women aged above 15 years of age, who are at risk of developing cervical cancer.  The World Health Organization estimates there are 74,000 deaths annually in India, accounting for nearly one-third of the global cervical cancer deaths.

HPV vaccine

This undated image provided by Merck in October 2018 shows a vial and packaging for the Gardasil 9 HPV vaccine. (AP Images)

Pandey’s stunt caused a firestorm online and was mostly panned by her followers.

“Am happy she is alive but pls arrest her for this drama and publicity stunt,” wrote one follower, with his top post getting nearly 33,000 likes on Feb. 3.

Another commenter wrote, “Exploiting a serious issue like cervical cancer for cheap publicity is absolutely disgraceful. Using your platform to spread awareness is commendable, but faking your own death is a new low. Respect for real survivors and victims matters more than attention-seeking stunts. #Disappointed.”

Pandey posted a second video the day after her death post acknowledging the blowback she was receiving. She said she was sorry for upsetting people but did not appear to have any regrets.

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“Yes, I faked my demise. Extreme, I know. But suddenly we all are talking about cervical cancer, aren’t we?” Pandey said. “It’s a disease that silently takes a life and this disease needed the spotlight urgently.”

“I am proud of what my death news has been able to achieve.”

“Unlike some other cancers, cervical cancer is entirely preventable,” she said. “The key lies in the HPV vaccine and early detection tests. We have the means to ensure no one loses their life to this disease. Let’s empower one another with critical awareness and ensure every woman is informed about the steps to take.”

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