After August 5, when India revoked Kashmir’s special status and followed the move with a military lockdown, Uzma Javed did not leave her house for days.
A 20-year-old student who usually lives in Kerala, Javed had returned home to spend Eid with her relatives.
But instead of celebrating, she found herself caged in while outside, armed Indian paramilitary forces manned largely empty streets.
Before announcing the decision, one of the government’s arguments for scrapping Article 370 was that it would lead to gender equality and the “emancipation” of women in the Muslim-majority region.
But days later, a number of the politicians with India’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) made sexist comments directed towards Kashmiri women.
On August 10, Manohar Lal Khattar, chief minister of Haryana, was quoted as saying: “Some people are now saying that as Kashmir is open, brides will be brought from there. But jokes apart, if [the gender] ratio is improved, then there will be a right balance in society.”
Earlier, the BJP’s Vikram Saini, a Member of the Legislative Assembly, said “Muslim party workers should rejoice in the new provisions. They can now marry the white-skinned women of Kashmir.”
The misogyny also spread online, with posts on social media networks carrying a similar theme. And according to reports, “How to marry Kashmir women” was increasingly Googled after August 5.
“The way women of Kashmir are exoticised and objectified on a daily basis in India, the way their bodies are portrayed as vulnerable and used to create fear and intimidation, has heightened the sense of being preyed upon,” said Samreen, a 22-year-old make-up artist from Srinagar.
Janees Lanker, a 22-year-old Masters student from Srinagar, blaming the political class for encouraging sexist attitudes, she also pointed to the portrayal of Kashmiri women in Indian cinema.
“Kashmiri women are shown as these innocent, naive, dolled up beings,” she said, “which is nothing less than objectifying them.”
Her social media feeds, she said, are peppered with memes showing “fair girls with a hijab” as objects of sexual desire, “and it’s disgusting.”
Nivedita Menon, a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, said: “These are proclamations of conquest and plunder, and reveal the real intention behind the abrogation of 370.”