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 India's sudden removal of special rights from the disputed region made it more appealing to do so.
"It’s deeply sexist," said Rituparna Chatterjee, an activist writing a book on the #MeToo movement in India. "Women’s bodies have been battlegrounds for men for centuries. The latest comments of Kashmiri women, are only testimony to this fact," she said.
India struck down a constitutional provision on Monday that granted special status to residents of Jammu and Kashmir state, whose population is majority Muslim, including exclusive rights to owning property and getting state government jobs there.
Under the previous rules, women from the state who married outsiders lost those rights, and outsiders couldn't buy property in Kashmir. Now, residents of the state and people from other parts of India will be on an equal legal footing in Kashmir.
As supporters of prime minister Narendra Modi and his ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party flooded social media with posts expressing jubilation about the constitutional change, many men among them said on Twitter and the video platform TikTok that this would make it easier for them to marry Kashmiris.
"Congrats India now unmarried boys can marry these smart girls from Kashmir after 370 removal," said one post, referring to the constitutional provision that was struck down. 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 Vikram Saini, a BJP lawmaker, who was seen in a video urging party workers to marry "Kashmiri girls."
"We can get the bachelors among our party workers married there now, there is no problem," Saini says in the video standing in front of a Modi poster at a rally in northern India. "Our Muslim party workers should be happy, now they can go and marry fair-skinned Kashmiri girls."
Mihira Sood, a Supreme Court lawyer in New Delhi, who specialises in gender issues, called it "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 like this," she said. "Kashmiri women are not spoils of war. They are human beings with agency and the right to consent or not consent."
The internet is abound with articles extolling the virtues of Kashmiri women - and some talk about Kashmiri men in similar ways - emphasising their fair skin. Data on Google Trends showed searches for “Kashmiri girl” in India surged from 5 August onwards.