Three women tread on different paths to revive the vanishing Kashmiri art and culture. The journey initially seemed difficult but with patience and perseverance they not only managed to save the dying art but in the process they were able to document it for future references. The story of three young women Inshada, Soliha, Arifa on the International Women's Day indeed provides us the opportunity to recognise and appreciate the contributions made by women in all disciplines. Rising Kashmir’s Natika Bhat weaves a story of three women who attempt to bring back from oblivion our ancient art and culture that had almost vanished.
Inshada Bashir Mir; a 28 year-old lady has been working to revive the diminished state of crafts in Kashmir, especially, Aari embroidery.
Inshada after completing her bachelor’s degree in science pursued MBA degree in Craft Marketing and Entrepreneurship.
“I was a medical student till my bachelor’s, then after completing my graduation; I thought of going for the masters’ in M.Sc. Then on the prospectus of University, I saw the Craft Development Institute (CDI) offering an MBA degree in Craft Marketing and Entrepreneurship and I applied for the same and I got selected in the subject,” said Inshada.
The resident of Hanjiwara area of Pattan town in north Kashmir’s Baramulla district, Inshada said that after completing her MBA degree, she was doing internship in crafts only wherein her specialization was Tilla embroidery under the Self Employment Women Association.
“That very time, Commitment to Kashmir (C2K) came to Kashmir to provide grants to the students and craft persons to start their business, I also applied for it and subsequently got selected for the grants,” she said.
“In the project, I worked on Ari-work which nowadays is mostly dominated by the machine work which earlier used to be done via handwork,” she said.
Some decades back, in Kashmir embroidery work was done both by men and women but currently, the low wages are slowly driving men away from this craft while women continue to pursue it in their homes.
“The craftsperson working for the Ari work gets low wages because of the mushrooming of machine work,” Inshada said. “However, most of the people prefer Ari work. It is very hard to differentiate between the work done by hand and machine,” she added.
Inshada further said that many locals selling the crafts of machine made Ari Tilla outside Kashmir are selling it on the pretext of handmade. “They befool people and that is affecting our craft industry badly.”
Inshada has made many contemporary handmade designs of Ari work.
She says that her main motive was to revive the original craft industry wherein Ari work was being done with hands only and the most important reason was to provide a sustainable livelihood.
Inshada has set-up her own business of crafts with a motive to revive the dying culture of Kashmir.
“For now my outlet, Tabruk, is selling Kashmiri crafts online only, but I am planning to set-up my own showroom,” she said.
Her outlet, Tabruk tells the story of the lives of many artisans and provides them with the ability to express themselves through the handicrafts. Her outlet strives to bring the traditional handicrafts of Kashmir to customers all around the world with its traditional products and design.
23-year-old girl, Soliha Shabir has come forward to revive the poetry of the famous Kashmiri poetess, Habba Khatoon.
Soliha says, “It is not only Habba Khatoon that I wanted to work on but on the other fields too besides poetry to revive the different cultures and traditions of Kashmir.”
She always wanted to work almost on all major things that are related to the traditional culture of Kashmir.
The author of three books Soliha Shabir said that her two publications were on contemporary topics but she wanted to write and contribute something for the revival of different cultures of Kashmir.
“I thought to regain the lost glory of some of our famous poets and poetesses who have shattered in the modern era dominated by digitization and social media,” she said.
Soliha says that she was well connected with Habba Khatoon since her childhood as she has read a lot about her so that’s the reason she thought to pick up her poetry first.
“I thought of doing something very different which others are yet to do, so I got into the idea of reviving the theme of Habba Khatoon because of her unique style of writing,” she said.
The themes she mainly focused on Habba Khatoon were related to devotion, love, nature and grievances.
The book titled Zoon—the Heart of Habba Khatoon was published first from the Notion Press.
“The book has been recognized by Asia Book of Records, India Book of Records in 2021, young achievers awards, Coimbatore Literary Award (CLA) global awards and many more awards for the youngest and the first author in Jammu and Kashmir who has recreated the theme of Habba Khatoon's poetry and essence,” she said.
The themes of poetry from Habba Khatoon that Soliha have prepared are all written in English language.
Soliha says, “I’m often asked why I wrote Zoon in English and not in Kashmiri. Well this is my first step towards appreciating and reviving Kashmiri culture and tradition. We all have walked very far from our roots. Had I written the book in Kashmiri language not even a handful of youth would have seen it. So in order to take it to the young generation, I used English as my medium.”
Soliha is pursuing her masters in English literature. “I was 15 years old since I was into the habit of writing poetry and I started lettering about the Habba Khatoon in 2018.
She says, “My main motive to revive Habba Khatoon's poetry was to lift up the degrading culture of Kashmir.”
“These poems connect us with our culture and I believe that the place is known by its culture and traditions, so I feel it is my step for promoting the dying culture of my place,” she said.
Talking about her future plans, Soliha says, “I want to continue writing and I definitely want to continue writing on such a topic that can connect people with the cultures and traditions of Kashmir.”
Arifa Jan, a Kashmiri artisan, has been working on reviving traditional Namda—a rug made of felted wool.
She says that due to the lack of skilled manpower and low availability of raw material, the traditional Namda was vanishing from Kashmir.
Jan, an entrepreneur who is a commerce graduate has pursued her studies from the Craft Development Institute (CDI).
“After joining CDI, I got to know more about the crafts and the artisans. Therein I got to know how our crafts have taken a huge dip,” said Arifa.
While Arifa was pursuing a course at CDI, she had to go out for an internship in different states.
During that period of internship she saw how other states have preserved their traditional crafts and keeping in view their efforts to revive the diminishing craft, an idea popped into her mind and she started working on revival of Namda.
“I took up the revival of the Namda craft project in 2012 and I started it with five artisans. However, after three years, 15 more artisans joined me to revive the Namda work,” Jan said.
Jan said that she did not work really to earn out of it. “My main motive of revival was to keep the dying crafts of Kashmir alive,” she said.
Jan resident of Eidgah Srinagar, went on to sell her products to different countries and now works with 25 artisans and has trained more than 100 women in Kashmir.
She has also established three manufacturing units to revive the traditional Namda.
Arifa said that the Namda art has given her a number of opportunities to travel far and wide to Kyrgyzstan and the United States where she received a lot of appreciation for her work.
In 2020, Arifa was awarded the Nari Shakhti Purskar, which was presented to her by the President of India, Ram Nath Kovind.
In 2018, she was also nominated as the chairperson of the women’s wing of Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries (KCCI) and has also bagged a state award.