‘Cow’, ‘Lambo’, ‘Nataraj Pencil’: Kashmir’s toxic body-shaming culture

Photo for representative purpose. [FPK Photo/Zainab]

“What people saw was a ‘fat figure’. They called her ‘darti pe boaj’, cylinder and what not. These tags became her nicknames. It shattered the 19-year-old girl’s morale.”

When Sabreena gained weight last year, people started targetting her, which hit her self-confidence: “Tu gaai dikhti hai”. You look like a cow.

Those disquieting comments were coming from her close circle, making her anxious and annoyed.

“People don’t realise how body-shaming can affect a person’s mental state,” Sabreena says. “We’ve normalised this toxic behaviour and think it’s cool when it’s cruel.”

Like Sabreena, Saya’s friend was taunted for her weight gained due to medical condition.

“But what people saw was a ‘fat figure’,” Saya says. “They called her ‘darti pe boaj’, cylinder and what not. These tags became her nicknames. It shattered the 19-year-old girl’s morale.”

Wary of this rampant abusive culture, Mohsina, 22, recalls her traumatic school life that left her “soul-scorched” and shadowed her budding life.

“I was body-shamed to an extent where people told me that I would bulldoze buildings with my weight,” Mohsina says. “For people, these slurs are a joke but they don’t realise how it shatters a person’s confidence.”

Body-shaming, she reckons, majorly happens during school life. As a student, Mohsina says, she would be taunted for her facial hair.

“If I’ve more growth than others, that’s not my fault,” she says. “To be fair and flawless is considered a thing of beauty in Kashmir, while a black complexion or acne-ridden face is looked down upon.”

Akin to Mohsina, Rutba was also subjected to body-shaming because of her “abnormal” weight and height.

“I’m underweight since puberty,” Rutba says. “But then, I heard people calling me ‘Nataraj pencil’. They would laugh at me and tell me to have milk and eggs.”

Besides being underweight, Rutba’s figure has also become a subject of scorn. “People even called me ‘lambo’ for my height,” she says. “They would tell me that they need stairs to talk to me.”

Even though Rutba hasn’t let body-shaming affect her mental health, it has plunged Deeba into the state of depression.

To counter the acerbic comments on her short height, she even started cycling. “But the whole experience was so toxic that it created self-doubts in me,” she says.

“Our problem is that we judge people based on certain beauty standards, which is wrong. What’s adding to this toxic culture is the preference people give to good looks while hiring people.”

Despite spreading its tentacles deep in the society, advocate Mehreen Zafar says there’s no law for body-shaming. And that’s the reason, she argues, no such case is being registered.

In the Indian Penal Code, says the lawyer mostly handling domestic violence and divorce cases, “only Section 354—pertaining to assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty—can include body-shaming”.

“It has been noticed that husband and his family often resort to body-shaming in Kashmir,” Mehreen says. “But this offence has become so normal that many women don’t even consider it a wrongdoing. Such cases come to court’s notice as part of some other issue.”

The menace has already reached a nadir when it comes to marriages.

From background to beauty, says matchmaker Abdul Salam, everything is checked in Kashmir.

“Families sit with their bride-to-be and scan everything,” Salam says.

In the case of prospective grooms, the matchmaker says, job over looks is being preferred.

“It’s a delusional world out there,” Salam says. “Whenever I bring a marriage offer, people first enquire: “Shakal kies chas?” How does she look? People are more interested in faces than in hearts. That’s why we see even lavish weddings end up on a sour note now.”


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