Independent India over the decades has seen a revolution in the way a common woman in this country was perceived. However, the same did not happen in Jammu and Kashmir. Decades of militancy, Islamic radicalism and terrorism had deprived women in Jammu and Kashmir. Consequently, their empowerment saw a steady decline too. In contemporary times, a Kashmiri woman has been falling prey to illiteracy, alienation, heteronomy and lack of aspirations.
The state of Jammu and Kashmir has been a home to a number of personalities who have excelled in their respective fields. From Habba Khatoon, the 16th century mystic poet to Mawya Sudan, Jammu and Kashmir’s first female fighter pilot, these are women who have not only carved a niche for themselves but also have paved the way for future generations of Kashmir’s women. Their journey has been a saga of grit, dogged determination and unflinching loyalty which has gone down to annals of Kashmir’s history and an inspiration for numerous young women of the valley to emulate. This write up is a tribute to such modern, brave and at times underrated superwomen of Kashmir who have gone out to make a difference in their own way.
Qurat Ul Ain Masoodi founded a set up with focus on sensitive work on mental health of children in orphanages and women in a highly radicalized society. Qurat hails from south Kashmir’s Khrew, her father a retired government professor and mother a retired government teacher. It was her family values wherein she was encouraged to help people in distress. Qurat studied at Mallinson girls school in Srinagar and further went on to pursue engineering at SSM College. However, it was her childhood calling, particularly for orphans and women, that she decided to course correct. “I had taken the eighth semester exam, but I wasn’t comfortable, my heart lay elsewhere,” she says. Even though she would complete her engineering, she chose to look after under privileged children in orphanages. Qurat has since been raising and highlighting the plight of children who were facing abuse in some orphanages. Upon taking notice of her work, the government closed all those orphanages where children were being exploited. Qurat started an organization named Aash (Hope), which offers free education, meals, books and uniforms to needy students. Aash, has also been working for improving the life of women from underprivileged society. She and her organization have already supported around 250 marriages from poor sections of society. Qurat through her voluntary campaigning and other such philanthropic activities has not only earned the respect and gratitude of Kashmiri children and women, but has also paved the way for a brighter future for the community.
Jasia Akhtar is Kashmir’s first woman cricketer to be part of Indian National Women’s camp. She belongs to Shopian district of South Kashmir. Being pretty much a child prodigy, Jasia showed immense promise and talent since her school days. In 2017 she not only brought laurels to Shopian but to the entire Jammu and Kashmir when she was selected for the Indian Senior Women’s Camp at NCA in Bangalore. Jasia had her share of challenges and problems as well, Her aged father Gul Mohd Wani is a humble farmer who grows apples and walnuts for a living. With meager means it was difficult for him to support his daughter’s dream in a family of seven. Jasia says “I promised my father that I will work hard on my cricket and don the Indian team colors. God is taking me closer to my dream”. Jasia plays for Rajasthan women’s team in domestic cricket. She wants to set an example for others and convey to the world that Kashmiri women are very talented, even in these most challenging situations they are spear heading the lead in most unconventional fields for Kashmiri women including sports.
Kashmir has seen a rise in women entrepreneurs lately too. “The perfect pair by Kainaat” is a store in Srinagar that sells customized footwear and apparels. Its Founder,Kainaat became a pioneer for women entrepreneurship in the field of apparel designing in the Kashmiri society. Hailing from a patriarchal society, daughter of a single mother and a hospitality degree-holder, Kainaat dared to tread on a path which was an impossible challenge for Kashmiri women. Kainaat, through her designs, infuses intricate traditional Kashmiri elements called “Tilla” on Kolhapuris footwear and other varieties of footwear.
Presumably, the path to Kainaat’s entrepreneurial stint and financial independence was anything but smooth sailing, fraught with obstacles and social judgments in a male dominated sector especially in Kashmir, Kainaat remained determined to set up her own venture. Undeterred by constant opposition and stereotypes, she worked on her dream project brick by brick and today her venture qualifies as a case study for a successful business model. Kainaat is already working with national brands and says that “Negotiations with some international brands are at an advanced stage”. She further says that she is expecting a major collaboration soon. Kainaat attributes a major part of her success to social media, she says it has been a force multiplier and has made things extremely convenient for youngsters like her.
Kainaat, at just 23, is an asset to the society and a beacon of positive change.
A career in the Armed forces of India has long been regarded as both prestigious and rewarding. Mawya Sudan belonging to Laheri Village on the Line of control in Rajouri district, Jammu and Kashmir, carved a niche for herself and UT of Jammu and Kashmir in June 2021, when she was inducted as a fighter pilot during the combined graduation parade ceremony in Dundigal, Hyderabad. Mawya became the First female fighter pilot in history from Jammu and Kashmir. Mawya’s father is an employee of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board at Katra. She did her schooling from Carmel Convent School and later at JK Public School in Kunjwani. Being a bright student, Mawya earned a government scholarship to study at MCM DAV College in Chandigarh and pursued her graduation. Mawya,since childhood, was attracted to flying machines and used to draw sketches all over the walls in her house. She was active in sports too, as her uncle Raj Sudan fondly recalls. Mawya has etched a success story in the timelines of Kashmiri history, which will go on to inspire many women in Kashmir valley to realize their potential and work towards equality, social independence and Nation building.
Emerging success stories of Kashmiri women, who are breaking the shackles of Radical Islamic Patriarchal Societies, will not only inspire women in liberal democracies like the rest of India, but also women globally, living in those countries which are struggling to overcome the dreadful joint challenges of Islamic Radicalisation and conflict-ridden regression.