In south Delhi, a posh-locality in India’s capital city, Humera Majid had started Hameen Asto, a café in 2018 to not only promote Kashmiri culture but also to provide her fellow Kashmiris in New Delhi with a space to socialize. 

But after August 2019, non-Kashmiri customers chose her cafe to throw parties over the abrogation of Article 370, which had granted Jammu and Kashmir (J-K) limited autonomy for seven decades. 

Kashmiris were subjected to mockery and humiliation. At Ms. Majid’s cafe, her customers “started making jokes like ‘Now that the article has been scrapped, the weather in Delhi suddenly feels like Kashmir’,” she said. “All these things were not appreciable.”

At the time, Kashmir had been put under an authoritarian clampdown and a communications blockade, Ms. Majid had not spoken to her family in a long time and was going through emotional trauma when the parties were being thrown.

Days after the abrogation, a friend brought to her the marriage proposal from an Indian “now that they could buy land in Kashmir,” she said. “By saying that Indians will have Kashmiri wives, they gave a [push] to Indian men [to think] that they have access to Kashmiri women.”

Ms. Majid has now shut down her café and is now planning to move back to Kashmir. “Kashmiri women have this fear, which increased after 5 August,” she said. “Honestly, it is a pain to be there. I have [delayed moving back] because of the pandemic but as soon as things get better, I will wrap up things here and open my restaurant in Kashmir.”

This is a glimpse of how the abrogation played out on the ground–even for Kashmiris far away from the military clampdown–days after Union Home Minister Amit Shah had, on 5 August 2019, proclaimed Kashmir’s “full-integration with India”. 

Mr. Shah further claimed that J-K’s limited autonomy was “discriminatory to women and [Kashmir’s] children”. Three days later, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, too, justified the abrogation as a step against the “discrimination against women” and said: “Daughters of J-K were deprived of the rights that out daughters had in the rest of the states.”

Contrary to their assertion, the Modi government has fanned afresh majoritarianism and emboldened the Islamophobic rightwing–who, buoyed since Bharatiya Janata Party’s rise to power in 2014, have mounted fatal attacks on the country’s Muslim minority with the government as bystanders–once more. 

The direct impact of which was borne by, among others, a 23-year-old Kashmiri studying in Bengaluru city in the south Indian state of Karnataka. “Someone told me, jokingly, that my male classmates could see ‘potential’ with me now,” she recalled. 

Those comments hurled at her had a context: in a video that was widely appreciated and shared on social media, Haryana’s chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar is heard saying in his speech, on 10 August 2019, that “women from Kashmir could be brought to Haryana for marriage now that Article 370 had been scrapped”. 

“Our Minister O.P. Dhankar used to say that we will have to bring daughters-in-law from Bihar,” Mr. Khattar had said in an event, referring to the then cabinet minister, Om Prakash Dhankar, who is now head of the BJP’s Haryana unit. “Now people have started saying that since Kashmir is open, we can bring girls from there.”

The statement had infuriated another Kashmiri who had made the south Indian city of Bengaluru her home. “Saying that now Indians will marry Kashmiri women shows that they consider Kashmir and its people, either as a piece of land or pieces of flesh [that could be conquered],” said 26-year-old Azmat Ali Mir, adding that after the abrogation, “it has become a point of prestige for them.”

Ms. Mir owns a Kashmiri restaurant in Bengaluru, called Sarposh. Last August, she was in the process of starting her restaurant when her preparations for the opening came to a halt after the abrogation. “[Investors] backed out from my project,” she said. “They said they didn’t want to work with Kashmiris.” Moreover, she said, other tenants in the building where her restaurant is located had started creating problems “about why there were so many Kashmiris in my restaurant.”

Taken aback with the profiling and harassment, Ms. Mir postponed the opening till December but has been afraid and claimed to be under surveillance since then. “Now they [other tenants] go to my landlord and ask about me, they have complete files of my call records and even my social media,” she said. 

The fear is now seeping into her relationship with her a non-Kashmiri Bengaluru-based husband and his parents. Things would have been different, she said, if her husband had been a Kashmiri. “He is scared about my being vocal and venturing out,” she said. “These things have created a situation where he sometimes is not able to understand why I do certain things. He feels helpless.”

A year after the clampdown, things haven’t changed much in Kashmir nor outside it. Living a few kilometers away from Ms. Majid, Muntaha Amin, who had then just finished her master’s degree in Mass Communication from Jamia Millia Islamia University, felt dispirited as the communications blackout continued in Kashmir. Her belief that one needs to take control of their life and things will work out, fell apart.

Ms. Amin observed that men have always fantasised Kashmiri women and at the same time “considered them unachievable”. To her, Mr. Khattar’s lustful comments proved that. “Women have always been their subject to conquer. Kashmiri women have been Orientalized, romanticized and exoticized,” she said. “What does one even mean by saying that they would marry Kashmiri women? Kashmiri women are not objects.”

But this was just a part of the larger problem of identity and, said Ms. Amin, who wears a hijab, traveling around in mainland Indian cities has become “even more scarier” because of the constant fear of being identified as a Muslim Kashmiri woman. 

“[In New Delhi] I was in a privileged circle where I never had to face any sort of discrimination,” she said, “but for the first time ever in my life I have been so conscious of my headscarf while travelling anywhere because I am visibly Muslim.”

For Ms. Amin, 5 August 2019 changed everything. “I believe that our identities as Muslims, as Kashmiris and as women are under threat and they need to be asserted,” she said.

The story originally appeared in our 10-16 August 2020 print edition.

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