Determined, defiant – not the Kashmiri women of Sanghi fantasies
Protest in Srinagar against the abrogation of Article 370 on August 11, 2019, despite the clampdown by the Indian government. Image courtesy The Wall Street Journal.
When trolls on social media started circulating photographs of young Kashmiri girls, gloating, “now we can marry them”, it was only the overt manifestation by Sanghis of the real spirit behind abrogating Article 370. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi held forth at length on development, rights to education, rights for women and for Dalits, all of which the people of J&K were deprived of because of Article 370, the truth of course, is that J&K stands in the top 10 to 15 states on different indicators ranging from life expectancy, people served per government doctor, poverty rate and infant mortality rate, to human development index.
Or as Haseeb Drabu puts it:
The level of economic empowerment is evident from the fact that more than 25% of the household earnings in J&K are from own cultivation. In “prosperous” Punjab, it is only 18%, in “vibrant” Gujarat, it is less than 16% and in “terrific” Tamil Nadu, it is only 3%. And yet, J&K is being portrayed as a “sick” state.
There are other misleading claims that Modi has made, for example that because the laws passed by the Indian Parliament were not applicable to J&K, the state suffered. But
some of J&K’s own laws have addressed the issue concerned, leading to better outcomes than the rest of the country. India’s Right to Education Act and the law to prevent child marriage were not applicable in J&K, but the state’s own law makes education up to 14 years free and compulsory, and its rate of underage marriage is lower than many other Indian states’.
There is certainly an issue with the rights of safai karmacharis in J&K. The state had invited sweepers from the Valmiki (Dalit) community in 1957 and granted them permanent residency if they continued work as sweepers, The Wire reported in June 2019. This effectively made them and their children ineligible for other state government jobs or liable to lose permanent residency. But it did not need the dismantling of J&K to deal with this injustice. A sincere government could have assured this community their rights through less drastic means. That sincere government might as well have also done something for safai karmacharis in India while they were at it, given that these workers die routinely due to the lack of safety equipment while carrying out manual scavenging.
But the trolls knew what lay in the hearts of Modi and Shah, they knew the noble words were merely a cover for the real objective. The abrogation of Article 370 has effectively transformed J&K (which no longer exists), not into an “integral part of India” as the formula goes, but into what they perceive as enemy territory, the already heavily militarized state occupied by tens of thousands of extra troops from India; all political leaders placed under house arrest; all communications shut down (“all lines to the outside world — internet, mobile phones, even landlines — remained severed, rendering millions of people incommunicado”); and strictly imposed curfew.
Kashmir has always been enemy territory in the RSS geography of India, the land to be annexed, the people to be treated as the spoils of conquest.
And that is what the trolls caught on to. Beneath the pious invocations of the Constitution by the Prime Minister and Home Minister runs the violent discourse of rape and plunder.
It is another matter that what has been done with Article 370 is legally unsustainable and has put into serious crisis the survival of federalism in India. But that is not my focus here. My focus is on how Sanghvaad views women – all women.
What emerges very clearly from the talk of marrying Kashmiri women is how the Sangh Parivar views all women, of all communities, and what this sinister Family expects of Hindu women in particular.
Now trolls are trolls. How seriously can we take them, significant (and paid) agents of the Sangh arsenal though they are, right?
Let us concede this for one moment for the purposes of argument. How about BJP MLAs though? Vikram Singh Saini said,
Modiji has fulfilled our dream. The whole country is happy. I called a hakimji, asking for help to get land in J&K. All eager ‘karyakartas’ can now go to the state and marry ‘gori’ women there. We have no problem with it.
Outside BJP MP Vijay Goel’s house was a hoarding celebrating the abrogation of Article 370 with the picture of a smiling Kashmiri woman on it – not happy children finally going to school; not jolly factories puffing out development smoke over Dal Lake; not well equipped sanitation workers. No, invariably the image conjured up by the end of Article 370 is a fair smiling Kashmiri woman in that fantasy-of-trolls Kashmiri attire.
Really, nobody from the Sangh Parivar except Modi – from lowliest troll to senior BJP MP – is even pretending it is about development or Dalit rights. Certainly not Amit Shah, whose only claim was that Section 370 “was not good for the country” and that abrogating it would end terrorism (the same claim, you may remember, was made for demonetization, but proved wrong).
And now we come to the high point of this discourse, the “joke” made by the Chief Minister of Haryana Manoharlal Khattar. At an event in Fatehabad in Haryana, speaking about the practice of selective abortion of female foetuses, Khattar made a joke about how wives had to be brought from Bihar and now people are saying that because Kashmir “khul gaya”, wives can be brought from Kashmir too. But jokes apart, he added jovially, if the sex ratio is right, there will be santulan or balance in society.
This last sentence is supposed to have redeemed him. But let’s look at what’s going on behind all the jokes and joviality.
Khattar claimed in this speech that after the campaign the BJP government ran against the practice pf sex selective abortion in Haryana, the sex ratio had gone up from 850 to 933. From 2011 to 2016, this is a huge leap. I was impressed and looked it up. Turns out the the Haryana government has indeed provided the data to prove this claim, winning several awards from the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao programme.
But then it further turns out that these figures were cooked up. Entirely. An audit of ten districts by the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao campaign team showed that in some cases figures of girl child births were simply inflated; and in others, manipulated, by registering newborn girls on priority in the quarter under review, while boys’ births were registered in the next quarter. This is how Haryana was able to show dramatic increases from quarter to quarter.
I was not exactly astonished at this chicanery. The RSS war on facts and information comes a close second to its war on minorities, Dalits and all women, hence the dilution by this government of the Right to Information Act; hence its refusal to release National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) data.
…the destruction of India’s statistical system was not adequately recognised or condemned. That is, not until the latest revelations on how the Government is refusing to release the NSSO’s employment survey for 2017-18 led to the resignation of the last two remaining independent Members of the National Statistical Commission.
Returning to Khattar then, and his claims about Haryana’s sex ratio. The truth is that according to the 2011 census, Haryana ranked among the last six states with a sex ratio of 879, and according to figures provided by Niti Ayog, by 2013-2015 the sex ratio in Haryana had come down further to 831.
Let us remind ourselves then, about what it is that he is joking.
The selective abortion of female foetuses has drastically affected the sex ratio in Haryana to such an extent that Haryana men “bring wives” from poorer states, as there are not enough women being born in Haryana.
Here’s a report from as recently as 2018:
The skewed sex ratio of 834 girls per 1,000 boys and the patriarchal system in Haryana have led to a practice where women are easily bought from poor states like West Bengal, Assam, Bihar, Odisha, and Jharkhand. And sometimes, from even across the border.
So the joke is about what? The violence of repeated sex selective abortions that women have to go through till the desired male foetus is detected. How much control can the women possibly have in this decision, given the overarching patriarchy under which the institution of marriage functions?
The violence of the fact that there are so few women being born in Haryana that women have to be b(r)ought from poorer states to perform the functions of household and sexual labour. And be in turn prevented from producing daughters of their own.
The violence of assuming that Kashmiri women can now be b(r)ought in the same way – because what stopped Haryana men earlier from turning their eyes towards Kashmir? Article 370 did not prohibit marriage outside the community, only prohibited land from being inherited by women who did so, This was to protect land from being alienated, and such special provisions exist for many other states too, under India’s federal constitution, in order to protect rights of tribal people and other sections.
What stopped Haryana men from acquiring Kashmiri wives is the same reason they did not get wives from other not-so-poor states. Kashmir is not a poor state, with poverty at such levels that families sell their daughters. Indeed, it is not “poor” at all, as explained earlier.
So if Khattar says Kashmir ab khul gaya hai and that Haryana men can now bring wives from Kashmir, the violent implication is clear. Kashmir is India’s now. Its women are Indian men’s to do with as they will.
So there was no twisting of his words, no misunderstanding of a jocular utterance. His statement was simply giving shape to the real purpose of abrogating Article 370 – bringing Kashmir under the boot of India.
Let us remember that the Sangh Parivar has a proud tradition of treating women as merely wombs for the production of sons for Bharat Mata. And that their Bharat Mata herself is no free entity but the mother whom her savarna sons protect – from her own sexuality, from her own desires, from her own unruly body.
I have earlier written about Bharat Mata in the imagination of the Sangh Parivar.
Here let me draw your attention to the work of historian Charu Gupta, who has written about the anxieties of the Hindu right in the every day realm, about Muslim male virility and the desire that Hindu women could have for them. A project begun in the 19th century and carrying on till today, various groups of the Sangh Parivar have tried to prohibit Hindu women from going to Muslim tailors, vegetable vendors, bangle sellers. Charu wrote in 2002, about the attempts by Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Hindu Jagran Manch of Kotdwar, a town in Uttarakhand, to forcefully stop Hindu women from visiting Muslim male tailors. This illustrates, she says, the agenda of the Hindu right to propagate the image of the sexually charged, lustful Muslim male, violating the pure body of the Hindu woman (reference below).
This is the anxiety that provoked the emergence of the fraudulent idea of “love jehad” too.
Let me take you to the words of Bhanwar Meghwanshi, Ambedkarite, Dalit activist from Rajasthan, who spent five formative years in the RSS, from the age of 13, and made the journey towards a Left inflected Ambedkarism after leaving the RSS in disillusionment at its resolute castesim against Dalits.
He says in his memoirs (forthcoming 2019 in the Hindi original from Navarun Publications and in English translation from Navayana) :
From my days in the shakha, I had often heard that one of the main ambitions of Muslim men was to have sex with a Hindu woman at least once in their lives. They believe this brings them savab, or reward in heaven. This longing is what drives them.
It was difficult to believe this at first, but as it was repeated again and again, one began to accept it as truth. They would say, look at Muslim students in school or college, they are less interested in studies and more in attracting Hindu girls. Gradually it appeared to me to be true, that Muslim boys were indeed only interested in getting Hindu girls to fall in love with them.
My entire outlook changed. I felt as if every Muslim classmate was engaged in this project. The term ‘love jihad’ had not come into existence then, but the same kinds of things were said. It was said that after working in iron foundries and garages all day, these men emerged in the evening all dressed up, in search of Hindu women. They land up at our fairs, at our community dandiya dance, everywhere. It was often lamented, what do our women see in them!
A rising young leader in those days held the view that this was because Muslim men eat meat while Hindu men are vegetarian. Non-veg food increases the libido while the sattvik vegetarian food that Hindu men eat, douses sexual desire. Once a Sanghi lawyer declared, you know what, the root of their attraction is circumcision, Hindu women cannot resist this aspect of Muslim men. I didn’t understand much of this at the time. Later I certainly rethought many of these beliefs, but during my childhood, these stories took deep root in my mind.
In the shakha we used to try and figure out ways of countering this campaign of Muslim men to trap Hindu women. We decided that we should encourage Hindu men to do the same with Muslim women, inspire them by saying that having sex with a Muslim woman would bring as much merit in heaven as feeding a hundred cows. We should offer formal rewards to those Hindu boys who got Muslim women to fall in love with them.
This, dear reader, is the background in which we have to understand the trope of “now we can marry Kashmiri women”, in the context of an alarmingly declining sex ratio. It simultaneously indicates three ideas:
it is a euphemism for rape;
it is an exhortation to carry out a reverse love jehad, bringing the women of a conquered territory home as trophies; and
it indicates that for the Sangh Parivar, all women, including Hindu women, are merely wombs through which to play out their violent, masculinist and misogynist fantasies.
Charu Gupta 2002 “Anxieties of Hindu Right in Everyday Realm ” Economic and Political Weekly Vol. 37, No. 3 (Jan. 19-25) pp. 198-199
Charu Gupta 2000 Sexuality, Obscenity and Community: Women, Muslims and the Hindu Public in Colonial India New Delhi: Permanent Black.