People of Kashmir haven’t been much in mainstream media, so here are Kashmiri women achievers we should know about to correct that oversight.
Kashmir has seen a lot of strife throughout its centuries-old history. This literal ‘Heaven on Earth’ has seen very few, small spells of peace in between war, violence, and multitudes of efforts from the rest of the world to ‘own’ it, a lot of it due to its strategic geographic position. Despite that, the Kashmiris have stood strong, and strength and persistence is, thus, in the blood of the Kashimiris, and its women have played a large part.
From the ancient spiritualists and poets like Lad Ded and Arnimal to powerful leaders like Queen Didda who ruled over almost the whole of what is Kashmir today, to the more recent Krishna Hutheesing, Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, and Begum Akbar Jahan Abdulla, Kashmiri women have held their own.
After the central government revoked Section 370 from Jammu and Kashmir, opening up the valley to other Indians, there has been some loose talk by some specimens of toxic masculinity (including some MLAs and a CM) of getting for themselves the “gori ladkiyaan” (fair skinned Kashmiri girls) of the Valley.
Little do these men know that the land of gori ladkiyaan has produced many more achievers than they could ever imagine – there’s more to women than these obscene comments objectifying them.
Here are a few of these inspiring Kashmiri women achievers, no less than those from the rest of India. You might know some of these Kashmiri women well because of their being in the public eye, but you could do well to know about the others too.
ACP Dr. Ruveda Salam
She is a woman of many titles – a doctor, an Indian Police Services Officer at the post of Assistant Commissioner of Police, and a motivational speaker.
ACP Dr Ruveda Salam has held many titles under her belt. Going after her father’s wishes, she chose to appear for the Union Public Services Commission (UPSC) exam and cleared it with flying colours. She also has the achievement of having cleared the same not once, but twice, apart from being an MBBS!
She has been a motivation for many young girls wherever she has gone to speak to them – Tamil Nadu, Hyderabad, and Jammu and Kashmir – boosting their confidence to pursue their dreams, and encouraging those who want to follow in her footsteps and join the IPS like her. She absolutely loves her job, and feels grateful and honoured when young girls look at her in awe, wanting to be like her! Dr Ruveda Salam is currently posted in Tamil Nadu.
Captain Sami Ara Surury
A local of Sumbal Sonawari, Capt. Sami Ara Surury, who earned her CPL (Commercial Pilot License) in the year 1994, is the first Kashmiri woman to have earned the license to fly commercial planes.
Capt. Ara had to fight her way to where she is today, going well against the wishes of her own family who wanted her to get an MBBS, become a doctor and settle quietly in life. From applying and succeeding in getting a job as a cabin crew, to becoming a commercial pilot, it was a strenuous journey for the simple Kashmiri girl, with less than required financial resources during the turbulence which was taking place in the Valley in 1987.
This journey took her more than half a decade, though she successfully achieved her goal by obtaining her CPL by completing her pilot training from Texas, USA. She is presently 48 and an Airbus pilot – an inspiration to all those young women who dream and aim to fly high!
Dr. Nyla Ali Khan
An eminent author and an academician, Dr. Khan has published four books, including her most noteworthy book, Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir: Between Indian and Pakistan, mainly discussing the plight of the women of her homeland Jammu and Kashmir, focussing heavily on the political issues and strife.
Dr Nyla Khan is the first Kashmiri woman to be accepted as a member of the Advisory Council for the Oklahoma Commission on the Status of Women in 2015. She is a Visiting Professor at the University of Oklahoma and Rose State College.
A woman with strong work ethic and immense intellect, Dr Nyla Khan has earned many awards and accolades for her groundbreaking work.
Known as the ‘Iron Lady of Kashmir’, Ms. Parveena Ahangar is the Founder and Chairperson of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) in Jammu and Kashmir. She is a Rafto Prize winner for her ‘protests against forced disappearances’ in Kashmir, as well as a Nobel Prize nominee.
Ms. Ahangar is one of those Kashmiri women achievers who rose from their personal tragedies, emerging as a beacon of hope to their fellow Kashmiris. In her words, “Nobody understands a mother’s pain. I’m a victim, there are many like us. APDP originated out of my pain, and pain of hundreds of mothers like me.”
From its humble beginnings in the year 1994, an estimated 8,000-10,000 cases have been taken up by the organisation.
Hailing from Badgam, Central Kashmir, Ms. Razdan is a journalist and TV personality who is well known for being the primary anchor on NDTV 24X7 for its news show, Left, Right and Centre.
Nidhi Razdan has received many awards and recognition for excellence in journalism, including Teacher’s Achievement Award (TAA) for Communication (Electronic Journalism), Ramnath Goenka Award for Excellence in Journalism and The Jammu and Kashmir State Government Award for Excellence in Journalism.
She is a woman with a strong and commanding voice, one who does not shy away from calling a spade a spade. She is, indeed, one of the most well known, and most influential female news reporters of the contemporary times.
Shamma Jain, an Indian IFS officer and Indian Ambassador to Greece (since 2017) pursued an excellent academic career through out graduation and post graduation, and joined the Indian Foreign Services in the year 1983.
She had been the Indian Ambassador to Panama and Ivory Coast, during the Ivorian Civil War in 2011; when her own residence was attacked by armed mercenaries, she did not shy from completing her duties, and was later safely evacuated by the French troops.
Shamma Jain is a leading example of courage, strength, tact and diplomacy, one of the those strong Kashmiri women achievers who stood in the face of danger, yet persisted.
Ufra Mir is the first and the only Peace Psychologist active in the Valley, who is working in the direction of providing help to the women victims of the Kashmir conflict. For the most part, people look at tragedies and initiate mitigation efforts for the physical damages and the lost manpower. But it is always the women who get victimised repeatedly, both on the personal as well as social level.
Ms. Mir has had a keen interest in psychology ever since she was in high school and knew she wanted to make a career in it, all for the betterment of her homeland. She uses various methods of expressive therapy, including creative writing, storytelling, and art therapy to help people heal, using their pain to express in creative ways.
She has also worked with the US Department of Peace (USA), World Economic Forum (India), Nobel Peace Prize forums (USA) and the Swedish Institute (Sweden), among other prestigious organisations.
Mehvish Mushtaq is a computer engineer from Srinagar and the creator of the Dial Kashmir android application. For this app which would be useful to both the natives and the tourists, she has been honoured by many awards and accolades, including Nari Shakti Puraskar in 2018.
Mehvish Mushtaq is an inspiration to all those young girls who want to carve a niche for themselves in the field of technology and contribute to the development of their homelands, all while keeping pace with the technological advancements of the rest of the world.
Dr. Sharmeen Mushtaq
Dr. Sharmeen Mushtaq is the first woman participant in the Gulmarg Snow Car Rally 2018.
A trained medical officer and a motor sport enthusiast, Dr. Mushtaq says, “I have got a platform and will give it my best shot. Winning and losing is not important but participating is.” For her efforts and inspiring story, she has been nicknamed, ‘The Lady with the Lamp’
For the longest time, the people of the Valley have stayed as outsiders in the eyes of the rest of the country. More so, the women, whose struggles are amplified by the fact that, well, simply that they are women. Even in the face of such adversities, these Kashmiri women achievers have made a name for themselves, have contributed and are still contributing to society.
Dr Girija Dhar
A prominent gynecologist, Dr Girija Dhar was instrumental in establishing the women’s hospital, Lal Ded Hospital.
Born in Srinagar, Dr Dhar studied at King George Medical College in Lucknow and later trained in the United Kingdom. It was there she met her future husband and another legend in Kashmiri healthcare, Dr Naseer Shah.
The two worked tirelessly to elevate medical education and both served terms as principal of Government Medical College, Srinagar.
Committed to philanthropy, they set up various welfare organisations including an orphanage. Dr Dhar also served as chairperson of Jammu and Kashmir Public Service Commission and was the first chairperson of Jammu and Kashmir Women’s Commission.
It is rare to come across a woman with the strength to not only pursue a non-traditional passion, but to establish it as an institution. Ateeqa Bano of Sopore did exactly that.Retiring in 1999 as state director of libraries and research, she went on to create Meeras Mahal, a private museum of history and art located in Sopore.
She dedicated her life to the preservation of Kashmir’s artistic and cultural heritage and travelled far and wide — often alone — to curate over 3,000 pieces for her museum.Meeras Mahal is home to rare manuscripts, pottery and terracotta utensils, an entire history of the evolution of the Kashmiri pheran and much more.
A legendary singer of international fame, Raj Begum was born in early 20th century in Srinagar. Her love of singing came at a young age but during a time in Kashmir when women were hardly allowed out of the home.
Raj Begum overcame social taboos to become the first female artist to perform on DD Kashir, a regional subsidiary studio of Doordarshan India, and paved the way for other female artists to enter the music industry. Her life and struggles have been the chronicled in a 2017 movie Her Theme of Freedom — The Melody Queen of Kashmir.
Miss Muriel Mallinson, a Christian missionary from London, is recognised here for her selfless contributions to the education of women in Kashmir. She came to Srinagar in 1922 to work at Ms. Violet Fitze’s School (now known as Mallinson School). She was a visionary and brought about tremendous educational and cultural advancements.
Mallinson School has since produced some of the finest professionals who serve in Kashmir and around the world. Although not a Kashmiri, her dedication to bring about change in Kashmir and her inspirational life deserve the utmost recognition.
Arnimal was an 18th century poet who was married to a famous Persian poet and historian. Legend has it that much like Lal Ded and Habba Khatoon, Arnimal’s unhappy family life was the main source of inspiration for her poignant poetry.
She was married young and her husband deserted her soon after marriage. The pain of separation and the longing for his love turned Arnimal into the romantic poet she is known as today.
A 17th century saint and poet, Mata Rupa Bhawani spent her early life under the religious guidance of her pandit father. Rupa would often retreat to Hari Parvat for her spiritual practice. Later, she became an ascetic and left for a life of meditation in the Himalayas.
Her poetry and spiritual philosophies have greatly influenced Kashmir and she is revered by Kashmiri pandits who celebrate her death anniversary as Sahib Saptami.
Habba Khatoon was a 16th century mystical poet born in a Pampore village. She was known for her intelligence but was married off to an illiterate peasant who mistreated her and they soon divorced.
She found solace in poetry and singing. One day, she sang sitting under a chinar tree when a gentleman on horseback approached — mesmerised by her melodious voice and beauty. The gentleman was Yusuf Shah Chak, the last king of Kashmir. They fell in love and this young peasant girl became queen, forever known as the Nightingale of Kashmir.
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