NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Women’s rights advocates have slammed a torrent of online posts by men from across India who expressed enthusiasm about marrying women from Kashmir after the sudden removal of special rights in the disputed region made it more appealing to do so.
Until this week, residents of Jammu and Kashmir, whose population is majority Muslim, had exclusive rights to property and state government jobs, among other privileges, though women marrying non-residents stood to lose those benefits.
But the constitutional changes put residents and people from elsewhere in India on equal legal footing.
Many women and women’s rights activists condemned the online comments that welcomed the changes for making it easier to marry Kashmiris.
“It’s deeply sexist,” said Rituparna Chatterjee, an independent journalist and activist who runs the Twitter handle @indiametoo handle that spotlights the stories of survivors of sexual harassment.
“Women’s bodies have been battlegrounds for men for centuries. The latest comments on Kashmiri women are only testimony to this fact.”
Supporters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party had flooded social media with jubilant posts after the change.
And many men among them took to Twitter and the video platform Tiktok to say it eased the way to marry Kashmiris.
“Congrats India, now unmarried boys can marry these smart girls from Kashmir after 370 removal,” said one, referring to the constitutional provision.
Another said, “Every Indian boy’s dream right now: 1. Plot in Kashmir 2. Job in Kashmir 3. Marriage with Kashmiri girl.”
Adding to those voices on Wednesday was a BJP lawmaker, Vikram Saini, seen urging party workers to marry “Kashmiri girls” in a video clip.
“We can get the bachelors among our party workers married there now, there is no problem,” Saini, standing in front of a Modi poster at a rally in northern India, added.
“Our Muslim party workers should be happy, now they can go and marry fair-skinned Kashmiri girls.”
When contacted on Thursday, Saini told Reuters he had said nothing wrong and meant no disrespect to women, adding, “If I said something jovially, it should not be taken in a bad light.”
Mihira Sood, a Supreme Court lawyer in New Delhi who specialises in gender issues, decried the objectification of women.
“It’s one thing if someone thinks that Article 370 should have gone, but a whole another to be chest-beating about it,” she said. “Kashmiri women are not spoils of war. They are human beings with agency and the right to consent or not.”
Many internet articles extol Kashmiri women, and men, emphasising the fair colour of their skin. Google Trends data shows searches in India for “Kashmiri girl” surged from Aug. 5.
Reporting by Zeba Siddiqui in NEW DELHI; Additional reporting by Blassy Boben; Editing by Martin Howell and Clarence Fernandez