There are many inspiring stories of women in Kashmir who have fought social and cultural obstacles to bring about significant social and economic reforms in their communities. Among them is Tawheeda Akthar, 31, hailing from Gund Hasi Bhat area of Lawaypora, Srinagar outskirts, where she was born and brought up in a low-income family.
She was the eldest child in her family. Since their father was a labourer, it was difficult for him to manage the family expenses and studies of his children. Tawheeda received her early education at a nearby government school and later passed her 12th class examination from a government higher secondary school.
She couldn’t continue her studies due to financial constraints. She joined Industrial Training Institute (ITI) Bemina and was enrolled in sewing technology and got the first position and learned the art of sewing and cutting.
“It was very difficult for me to pursue my studies. My father was a labourer and couldn’t afford to give me higher education. I faced a lot of difficulties. I was interested in making myself skillful. There was a time when I even had no bus fare. But, I didn't give up and besides I wanted my other siblings to study further,” she said.
“My vision is very clear. I want to be a strong support system for my father. Without passion, you have no energy, and without energy you have nothing,” she said.
Since childhood, Tawheeda was inclined towards handicrafts. After sewing, she learned embroidery work, knitting, aari work and mehandi designing.
She was 14 when she started learning craft and continuing studies. Tawheeda wanted to become a self-employed, financially independent woman and the challenges motivated her further.
In 2014, Tawheeda participated in a competition held by Zainabia Institute at Maisuma Srinagar where she got the first position and was awarded a sewing machine.
“This became a turning point in my life. I found the sewing machine an opportunity to start my own small boutique at home. It helped me to think out of the box about my problems which changed my life,” she said.
She started her boutique with one sewing machine and turned it into an ITI centre. For her, just earning for herself was not the sole motive. She wanted to empower women and opened the training centre ‘Shining Star Boutique’. Later, she managed to bring four second-hand sewing machines.
At the centre, she trained several unskilled women. She has so far trained 1200 girls in sewing free of cost. “Most of them are running their own boutiques,” she said
The 31-year-old has also trained some 300 boys who are also now earning their livelihood.
“It was a long journey which was very challenging. Today I can say I am not only a successful entrepreneur but I keep on upgrading my skills to meet the newer challenges,” she said.
Tawheeda’s boutique, a successful venture, provides employment to 12 women. She also runs Shining Star Society (NGO) through which she provides free training to women.
In 2021, the NGO along with her team stitched suits for fire victims at Parimpora where 60 houses were gutted in a devastating fire which affected more than a hundred families.
“I don’t charge anything from poor or orphans. Recently, I arranged a three-month free fashion designing course for 80 girls and a one-year ITI course for 15 girls, and three boys,” she said.
Tawheeda’s inspiration is her maternal uncle who always encouraged her, boosted her confidence and was always there when she needed the most.
“I always tell my students that learning a skill will help them be employed, which will boost their confidence and make their lives better,” she said.
Tawheeda is also very active on social media where she uploads videos related to sewing and cutting training for those women who are unable to connect with her centre.
“I promote many classes on my YouTube channel where students learn at their home and contact me for further details,” she said.
Awards and honours
On March 07, 2022 she received the women entrepreneur trophy from the Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME), Narayan Tatu Rane.
Tawheeda was also felicitated on the occasion of International Women's Day 2021 by Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha in presence of Divisional Commissioner Kashmir, Pandurang K. Pole.
During Covid-19, she received an appreciation award at a function at Sher-i-Kashmir International Conference Centre (SKICC).
Tawheeda has also received the Emerging Women Entrepreneur award in New Delhi on this years’ International Women’s Day.