“Kashmiri women are beautiful”
For the number of times I’ve had Indians (friends or otherwise) tell me that Kashmiri women are beautiful and go on to use other adjectives like item, maal etc. and the cringe it garners, this blogpost tries to explain my view point.
The idea of beauty in mainstream India is deeply problematic anyway- the preference for fair skin to a more prevalent darker tone in India is at the fore front of how many Indian men usually perceive beauty. And as a “race”/ethnic group Kashmiris are generally fair. Here is an interesting Google search box:
So while few Indians are much obsessed with fair skins of Kashmiris (and to some extent the same applies to women of any other ethnicity who are fair) is it the right way to “appreciate beauty” to say that Kashmiri (or Punjabi etc.) women are beautiful? Is there a right way to “admire” the “beauty” of a race of people/ethnic group? What does it mean when someone says Kashmiri women are beautiful? Doing so they are obviously judging the women on their criteria of beauty – whatever those may be. But the fundamental point to answer is what gives men the right or the authority to judge or rate the beauty of women.
Lets say, as an individual I know many girls in Kashmiri. I might find some of them beautiful (beauty being an extremely subjective thing). But should I generalise this and say all Kashmiri women are beautiful? I have grave problems with the generalisation. It dehumanizes women and treats them like objects. So, it may be perfectly alright to say that Kashmiri shawls (or apples, as someone on Twitter said) are gorgeous, the same cannot and should not be said of women. Shawls are a sale-able commodity produced to fulfil an aesthetic purpose, women are not. Shawls are a character-less entity lacking personality and individuality, women definitely not. When you collectively complement “the women”, you turn “the women” into an object – a thing that is pretty; another one of those exotic Kashmiri things. Exoticism and Kashmir have a long and troubled history of appropriation and misrepresentation and this is a derived product. It is an orientalist (and imperialist) view of Kashmiri people where they are treated to as having ample physical charms and desirable bodies, and their caricature is enough to fill in a male fantasy of women without having any independent identity. Thus, reducing them to being lesser than the others and as objects of pleasure.
It is partly the entitlement men feel they have in treating women as something of a lesser degree than themselves that comments like “women from Kashmir are beautiful” become acceptable in the common parlance. As if men come with a mental checklist of items which women in Kashmir tick-off. Fair skin – check, red cheeks – check, brown hair – check. Reduced to an inhuman doll – check. Like women in general are a ‘product’ waiting to be validated by them and Kashmiri women are the generally accepted gold-standard.
I am reminded of how during the Western imperialism of Africa, the Europeans depicted Africans as savages and beasts – and not as humans. A similar pattern can be seen in these comments. This sexist and racist trope of objectifying women for their physical attributes and treating them like objects of desire (and lust) does exactly that – treats them devoid of their humanity – in an embarrassing, sexual kind of way. Once in Kargil, I was sitting next to a group of bikers from Delhi who were talking about the Dardshina race of people in Dras. They spoke of them being tall and having long limbs. They spoke with disbelief and an enchantment one would feel while describing a rare animal seen for the first time. The tone of their voice struck me, and I felt embarrassed at how the bikers with their very voice and words had stripped the indigenous people off their humanity and made them objects of curiosity. It is a similar humiliation one feels when you hear Indians talk about Kashmiri women as being white and beautiful – as if that is the achievement women from Kashmir have gained and is the prime attribute they have.
This is how “being beautiful” is commodified (think the commonly used trope “Kashmir ki Kali”), belittled and subjected to lewdness. So, now you may be wondering that you know this Kashmiri girl and you find her really pretty – how should you complement her. At best, you can tell her (if she allows) that she is beautiful. Not the entire race/community. She is not a prototype from an assembly line. She is an individual who is beautiful in your eyes. (Also, be a gentleman and lower your gaze. Don’t creep her out!) She is not a representative of the collective beauty or otherwise of Kashmiri women, no one is.