Over the years, Kashmir, which is otherwise known as a conflict-ridden state, is said to have come a long way in terms of things other than politics. Kashmir, where the local women were earlier considered to be merely counted, where women catered to their men and where men were served first and women last, is now witnessing a new wave of much needed change.
In an attempt to break the stereotypical norm of the society, a healthy number of Kashmiri girls are now seen paving their way towards careers and professions that were earlier considered male-dominated throughout the valley. With the prevalence and popularity of vocations like media, law, business, cricket, aviation, fashion, etc., more and more valley girls are said to be choosing such professional courses over the preferable Arts and Home-Science. For many in the valley, especially the female populace, it may well be a sign of a healthy generational shift.
Girls step out of their comfort zones
Twenty-five year old Mishal Naqshbandi, an LLB graduate form Kashmir University, is currently pursuing her LLM in Bhubaneswar, Orissa with a dream of becoming a well-known yet learned lawyer of the valley. “I choose Law for the fact that I actually wanted to become a Lawyer, so what if I am a girl? And the reason why I am doing LLM here in Orissa shows how seriously I am into it," says Mishal.
Like law, the field of media is another career option much sought after by valley girls these days. Sources say that every year approximately about 10, 000 candidates apply for the courses of Mass Communication and Journalism at the University of Kashmir, where the majority of candidates who apply are said to be girls.
Souzeina Mushtaq, 23, a fourth-semester student at the Media Education Research Centre (MERC) Department of University of Kashmir never thought that she would become a Journalist. As a child, she intended to become a commercial pilot but fate surely had other plans for her and she ended up in the field of Journalism with greater passion and will. “I never thought that I will become a journalist one day. Since my childhood, I wanted to become a pilot. But fate had conspired something else," she says, smiling.
For Souzeina, Aasiya Jeelani, a Srinagar based Journalist and Human Rights activist served as the sole inspiration for the shift in her preference of career. It took a tragic incident like Aasiya’s martyrdom in 2004 to inspire a young girl who was in her early teens to decide then and there the future course of her coming morrow.
“It was Aasiya Jeelani, whose death in 2004 inspired me to join Journalism and become a Journalist. Since she had herself studied and worked here in the valley and I as a person who was inspired by her, followed her steps to do Journalism here only," says Souzeina.
The urge to break the stereotype
Like Mishal and Souzeina, the fairer gender of the valley is increasingly coming forward to explore the fields typically within the male domain. While reasons behind such steps vary from girl to girl, the driving force to break the stereotype remains the same.
Mishal maintains that the urge that made her pick law as a career option three years ago was primarily to break the clichéd norm of the Kashmiri society. “It is basically the inner desire to break the stereotypical norm of our society. Gone are the days when a woman used to be satisfied with basic education. Today it is more about being independent and not dependent on either their parents before marriage or on their husbands after marriage," says Mishal.
For Souzeina, the force that drove her towards Journalism against the wishes of her parents had nothing to do with her own self. “Thanks to Aasiya," says Souzeina, “I am the first person in my family to become a Journalist. And that too against the wishes of my family. My younger sister is studying medicine and my parents wanted me to become a doctor as well. But I was always inclined towards journalism, for the sake of Aasiya," adds Souzeina.
Souzeina clearly remembers how she got to meet Aasiya and her colleagues, who were working on issues pertaining to human right abuses against women. She had met Aasiya while she was a school kid of class 7. Aasiya’s organization, KWIPD (Kashmiri Women's Initiative for Peace and Disarmament) had organized an essay competition, entitled "Plight of Women in Today's Kashmir" wherein Souzeina had won 2nd prize.
Souzeina states that it was difficult for her to understand the conflict and the situation. She claims that, to her Aasiya was a window that made her aware of things she never thought existed. “I had touched the issue of domestic violence as the plight of women in my essay. But Aasiya talked about widows, half widows, abuses in form of rapes, molestations. She talked about things I wasn’t really aware of,” claims Souzeina.
In April 2004, exactly two years after her meeting with Aasiya Jeelani, Souzeina heard the tragic news of Aasiya's martyrdom in a land mine blast in Lolab, Kupwara while election monitoring. “It was only after her death that I read about her work, her concern for women's issues, and her love for Kashmir. And I decided to follow her path and step into Journalism. Though it was against the wishes of my parents, some things in life are worth fighting for,” says Souzeina.
Over the recent years in Kashmir, a growing number of girls are opting out of their comfort zones and trying their hands at less ventured yet wide and diverse areas of professional fields. However, as per a government report, professional education remains a less preferred area for girl students as 85 percent of them enroll in conventional Arts, Science and Commerce programs. Interestingly, the only qualified cricket coach in Kashmir is also a woman named Sakina Akhtar. She is reportedly the only coach in the valley with a degree from the National Institute of Sports. Despite being a conservative society, locals accept the change and march head and shoulders with the times.
“Kashmir is a place where nobody knows what will happen next. Amid this perplexity, the future seems unknown but then life is all about fighting till the end and creating paths and moving on. Today many girls are in the diverse fields like Journalism, contributing to the cause through writing, art, films, and this is a positive sign. In our batch there are 10 girls within a total of 30 students. It means that society is, somewhere, acknowledging the profession and its contribution, and I am hopeful about the future," adds Souzeina.