Feature by Tooba Towfiq and Photographs by Faisal Bashir
THIS Women’s Day we celebrate the resilience of women who do not make it to the Glass-ceiling narratives and change-makers’ lists in Kashmir but are not any less than any of such women. They brave odds of their class position and participate in everyday activities — agential in their roles inside and beyond their houses. Male dominance is an order of this unfortunate world but all women living and breathing through it are breaking barriers. Cheers to all, especially these women from Kashmir. Here’s to changing how we look at achievements.
Pakher Pora area in Pulwama has some inaccessible forest areas whose residents do not have easy access to essentials like the city folks. These areas are only accessible through transport options like horses. This woman rode a horse to the marketplace to fetch groceries and a live rooster in her basket. Women in the countryside are disadvantaged as access to education, health care and hygiene is not equitable. Yet, they form an integral part in running their household and undertake tasks which are either deemed ordinary or not praiseworthy at all. In contrast to the urban women, rural women take up tasks which may not be deemed “feminine” by the fragile femininity dictated and expected of women in urban areas. Yet, they continue to break stereotypes in their own way — struggling and living.
An old woman in a mustard field in Pulwama area of Kashmir, carrying a grass sack. Farming in Kashmir is not restricted to men here. The activity has always had both men and women, usually from the same kin who divide work and undertake agricultural activities throughout the year. This is not new. Women receive farming training through generations. Many have been active agricultural hands for years and have passed the skill on to their next generations. It requires skill and education.
This public activity is more of a familial activity but an agential one. Nonetheless, much like the rest of the world, women have a long way to go as far as land rights, access to education and freedom to decision-making are concerned. Kashmiri women in agriculture cannot be demoted to a label of mere “helps” in the field neither can they be deemed entirely empowered. They remain, just as many women around the world, constantly juggling life and patriarchy.
On the Dodpathri Road, this mother and son duo have started a traditional Kashmiri tea and bread business for locals and non-locals who visit this tourist location. Featured here with a Somavar, traditional bread, cups and other cooking essentials.
Kashmir has seen a recent upsurge in new and young female entrepreneurs. Some go on to find space and praise in public through dedicated feature stories in newspapers, journals and digitial spaces.
The chai-joint on Dodpathri road by this woman is no less. Even as she’s not as privileged as many of the urban counterparts — the entrepreneurial spirit shines through even more. Need is an unfortunate encouragement but those who roll up their sleeves against all odds are worth all the applause.
Women are an important part of agricultural activities in rural Kashmir. Here in the picture is a group of young and middle-aged women, sowing paddy plants, Kaka Pora, Pulwama. This is an essential activity in rural economy and women are an important part of the labour force.
With the diurnal rays of sun, this elderly woman in Bugam Village of Budgam Village also set out for business. Carrying pottery utensils, she has headed out to sell these.
In Budgam’s Beerwah area, a woman is seen carrying firewood for domestic use. Contrary to the image of women presented in popular culture, these women play not just domestic roles within the confines of their homes but also set out to do more challenging tasks like find and carry heavy stacks of firewood. They fuel the entire household, quite literally.
Women sowing rice in the rice fields of Pulwama. This is a community activity and women find themselves working together and bonding meaningfully in such settings. Men and women both share the work right from purchasing, sowing to harvesting. Infact, in Kashmir, women make up to 60 percent of field workers, organizers and field managers in the agriculture sector. Infact, according to Director Agriculture Kashmir, Chowdhary Mohammad Iqbal, educated women in urban areas have also taken interest in Agricultural activities. Those women or men who do not participate in farm or allied activities, may even hire women for field work. Therefore, this agricultural production activity is not only accessible to women due to it being their family responsibility but is also one deemed suitable to unrelated women.
This does not mean that women are paid adequately for their work. Therefore, institutional facilitations, reforms and rewards from the government are much needed to ensure systemic and structural benefits to women in farming.
A word of caution in reading about women in fields is that it does not essentially translate into agential roles in other domains of life. Women still do not enjoy significant power over their own lives and face dictations, stigmatisation and are also painfully confined by roles that are defined by society.
Seen here is an elderly woman from Anantnag, packaging apples in boxes for transportation. Horticulture is the biggest industry in Kashmir, with almost 2.2 million tonnes of apples exported from the Valley and Apple export is a huge part of the revenue stream here. Women form a huge chunk of this unorganised sector. They are not a minority in it by any means and take an active part alongside men in apple production. Infact, in the hyperlocal and local transportation activity, women play an active role. This is also true of apple picking and apple packaging.
For families running orchards, apple production is a primary and sizable source of income. Therefore, not only do women run domestic spaces, they are also engaged in “bread-earning”.
However, the monetary benefits of production do not necessarily reach women directly and are mostly reaped by men only.
A woman in Gulmarg, carrying grass sacks on her head to feed her cattle. Very often, our social media feeds are inundated with images of these beautiful flowers with well placed figures of urban women — in their glory. This is not an unusual sight but surely a rare click. It is resilient but nonetheless a hard way to live.
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