Mar 29, 2006

Kashmiri Women Entrepreneurs

Peace is literally earning several Kashmiri women dividends. Just ask Nusrat Jahan Ara. The 27-year-old heads a floriculture cooperative in Kashmir, the first such initiative in the state. A computer graduate, Ara left a government job to start the Petals and Ferns Cooperative Ltd five years ago with no money in hand. Today it has 40 members and is growing.
"When I started, I did not have a penny in my pocket. I used to take flowers from farmers on credit and send them to Delhi for sale. I used to get paid the next day and give the money to the farmers," she says. Ara represents a new breed of women entrepreneurs who are scaling new heights in Kashmir. According to the J&K industries department, out of 20,528 functional industrial units in the state, 1,008 are run by women.
Shahala Sheikh, 32, owns Wood Fort, a unit dealing in exquisite walnut furniture. A commerce graduate, she revived the business after her father's death. "He passed away when I was 14. All of us three sisters were in school at that time and nobody was there to take care of our business. I completed my studies in Bangalore, came back and revived it," she says.
Ulfat Rasool Khan, 25, has invested Rs10 lakh in a food-processing unit, Sen Foods, at Khanmoh Food Park in Srinagar. "My products will hit the market next month. I plan to start exporting since Kashmiri food is in great demand," says the commerce graduate. Rifat Mushtaq, 50, is one of the oldest women entrepreneurs in the state and has battled tremendous odds. A postgraduate in Kashmiri literature, she started a matchbox factory in 1984. "But, with the advent of militancy in 1990, my license was cancelled by the government on grounds that I was dealing in explosives," she says.
Mushtaq borrowed money from her husband and friends and started a polythene unit. When production and sales peaked, the government closed the unit on environmental considerations. Undeterred, she started a printing press. "I have 22 employees, including 12 women. My press is doing well. I have invested Rs40 lakh in it," she says.
Says GM Gania, deputy director (planning), department of industries: "Kashmiri women are coming forward and setting up industries. And they excel in their fields. This is an encouraging trend and will go a long way towards the development of our state." Women are also being seen as keen on entrepreneurship. "Women are keen on starting industries on their own. Forty per cent of the people in our classes are women," says Niala Khanday, senior faculty at the Entrepreneur Development Institute, Srinagar.
Says Prof Bashir Ahmad Dabla, dean, faculty of social sciences, University of Kashmir: "Earlier, women preferred white-collared government jobs. But such jobs have shrunk. So women are now taking risk and going in for ventures of their own. They have come of age and joined the mainstream."[DNA]

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