In the wake of developments in Jammu and Kashmir, BJP MLA Vikram Singh Saini exhorted karyakartas, especially Muslims, to make use of their supposedly new right to marry fair-skinned Kashmiri women. On full display was a toxic cauldron of blatant sexism and a colonial mindset. Not to mention the average Indian fantasy about fair skin – especially the romance and sexual desire for fair-skinned mountain women among the men from the ‘heartland’. Just look at any Bollywood film. The recent clamour for Kashmiri women is a pathology, which needs to be treated.
This is how BJP’s Saini explained the complex ramifications of the Narendra Modi government’s recent move to scrap Article 370 to party workers.
“Karyakarta bahut utsuk hain aur jo kunwaare hain, unki shaadi wahin karva denge, koi dikkat nahi hai. Kya dikkat hai? Pehle wahaan mahilaon par kitna atyachaar tha. Wahaan ki ladki agar kisi Uttar Pradesh ke chhorey se shaadi kar le, toh uski naagrikta khatm. Bharat ki naagrikta alag, Kashmir ki alag… Aur jo Muslim karyakarta hain yahaan par, unko khushi manani chahiye… Shaadi wahaan karo na, Kashmiri gori ladki se.”
(The workers are very excited and those who are single, we can get them married off there, no problem. What’s the problem? Earlier, women there [in Jammu & Kashmir] suffered so many crimes and indignities. If a girl from there married a boy from Uttar Pradesh, she would lose her permanent residency. India’s citizenship and Kashmiri citizenship were different…And the Muslim party workers here should celebrate…Get married there na, to a fair Kashmiri girl.)
After property, not love
Saini and the hundreds of men jumping in joy on social media have got it wrong. There was nothing stopping them from marrying Kashmiri women until now anyway.
Since Monday, social media has been flooded with posts of men celebrating the abrogation– either over prime real estate or Kashmiri women. As if the Kashmiri women were poor, oppressed beings who were just longing to marry these men but couldn’t because of Article 370.
— Good Guy (@gooljaar) August 5, 2019
— Sangy007 (@Sangy_Sagnik) August 5, 2019
Legally, the sticking point was not marriage but whether the children of such a marriage would be able to inherit any property owned or inherited by the woman in the state, if she was a permanent resident.
In 2002, in The State of Jammu & Kashmir and Others vs Dr Susheela Sawhney and Others, a three-judge bench of the Jammu & Kashmir High Court held that women who were permanent residents of the state would not lose their status upon marrying someone outside of the state or with non-permanent resident status, and were eligible to inherit property even after being married. On the matter of heirs and whether they also inherit permanent resident status, the bench referred the matter to a larger bench. That case was due to be heard by the Supreme Court, but now, Article 35A is nullified anyway and these men are over the moon.
Which means all they really wanted was…property. All the excitement was just an imperialist mindset that’s about conquering new lands and planting their flag there.
A lust for fairer skin
No matter the Dark is Beautiful campaigns, India, after all, is a country of men with a fetish for white-skinned women. This fetish when translated into a commercial proposition, becomes a $450m business of fairness cream and other products like skin bleaches. The BBC once reported that we, as a nation, spend more on whitening creams than on Coca-Cola and tea.
Commenting on this fetish, social media activist Pankaj K. Chaudhary wrote that though most Indians are not white-skinned, one of the most popular nursery rhymes (73 crore views on YouTube) Nani Teri Morni Ko Mor Le Gaye depicts the thief as a dark-skinned man (‘kaale chor’).
For Indian men (and women) this becomes part of the primary socialisation and learning. We grow up listening to songs like Chittiyaan Kalaiyaan Ve and Ye Kaali Kaali Aankhen, Ye Gore Gore Gaal.
Meanwhile, the Haryanvi video industry has churned out a new song with lyrics that say Haryanvi men should upgrade their choice and instead of a Bihari Bahu they should now bring home a wife from Kashmir (Bahu Kashmir se lani). Because the gender ratio in Haryana is pathetic, there has been a tradition of buying brides from poorer states and marrying them.
A desire for mountain women
Freelance writer Deepak Tiruwa laments that what is being said about Kashmiri women has earlier been said about Uttarakhandi women as well. He says that the fantasy to exploit a ‘mountain girl’ is older than the movie Ram Teri Ganga Maili.
A young man from the Indian mainland going to the hills for some or the other reason or just for fun, and falling in love with a Pahadi (mountain)woman is a narrative repeatedly told in many Bollywood movies. For instance –Junglee (1961), Kashmir Ki Kali (1964), Janwar (1965), Ram Teri Ganga Maili (1985), Taal (1999), Yahaan (2005), Mausam (2011).
The only notable exception of when a woman from the plains falls in love with a Pahadi man is Jab Jab Phool Khile (1965). Otherwise, it has always has been the story of a woman from Kashmir or Uttarakhand or Himachal and a boy from the mainland.
Saini and his karyakartas’ latest comments on Kashmiri women, then, is nothing new – just plain old colonial patriarchy.