On a bright sunny afternoon of June 11, a teenage girl was working inside a fenced patch of land in Pulwama outskirts at Bonera village. Clad in a modest dress, she was deweeding a nursery of carnation plants, a commercial crop grown for cut flowers.
The carnation crop faces a sea of small bushes of purple blossomed lavender, an aromatic shrub cultivated for lavender oil. Like carnation and Lavender this farm has many aromatic, medicinal and ornamental plants including Rose, Scented Geranium, Clarysage, Artemisia, and Rosemary.
A large signpost on one corner signifies this place as the Field station of Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CISR) India Institute of Integrative Medicine (IIIM) Bonera, Pulwama.
Wearing a beautiful smile on her face, the girl identified herself as Seerat Jan from neighbouring Bandzoo village. She has been working at this place for the past two years. One of her neighbours, a member of the village self-help group, told her about this place.
She presented before the officials of this field station to work as a seasonal labourer. Ultimately, she landed on the farm where she found many girls like her working as seasonal labourers for cultivation and harvesting of aromatic and medicinal plants. The physical ambience and social security of this place appealed to her; she invited her two younger sisters to work on the farm.
The three of them earn a decent amount. "This is a good place for women to work, we earn a sufficient amount with which we manage our daily needs and also support our parents," Seerat told Rising Kashmir.
Many girls like Seerat and her sisters; Uzma and Saima derive their livelihood from this field station of 150 acre CSIR-IIIM Bonera, the largest such farm in North India.
Nasreena, a married lady, from Looswani village of Pulwama is one among them. She has been on the farm since last March.
"Working here made me feel independent, the female labourers get a lot of encouragement and support from officers here," she said.
She added that they derive their livelihood from the place with dignity and respect.
“This station has a secure environment because of which a lot of girls prefer working here," she said.
People hail this scientific body focused on research for inventing a model for community employment of women.
Locally, it is the largest employer for female workers. "At peak season it employs more than 200 women," a male labourer working on the farm said.
Dr Shahid Rasool, in charge Scientist, Field Station, CSIR IIIM, Bonera, Pulwama told Rising Kashmir it was his idea to approach National Rural Livelihood Mission Pulwama with a proposal for employing some girls on the farm.
"It was proposed before the authorities that the girls will be employed after training them on how to cultivate these crops," he said.
Around 200 girls joined the training and worked on the farm. “Most of them learned skills of this trade here, they were given seedlings and they started independent entrepreneurship," Shahid said.
He added that 70 girls are still working on the farm and they plan to train them to launch their own farming entrepreneurship.
He said that raising aromatic and medicinal plants doesn't require hard physical activity.
"I observed that female folk are very comfortable working here," he said, "It may be that they found ambience or feel of the place appealing, many factors play a part."
The senior Scientist said they assured the women folk of safety and security time and again.