Friday 18 May 2007

Conflict-hit Kargil women turn entrepreneurs

Till three years ago, death loomed over Kargil in the form of Pakistani shells. On any normal day, every afternoon these shells would chase its residents into underground bunkers. As soon as the Kargilis would hear the big bangs, they’d rush for safety – some in the bunkers, some in the safe locations and others would simply flee the town. Pakistani army shells would pound the entire Kargil region with a ferocious intensity, hitting innocent people, shops, schools and hospitals. No one would know where the shells would fall as death loomed large everywhere.Thankfully, things are better for the past 38 months now. The ceasefire which came into place on the borders of Jammu and Kashmir in November 2003, has brought about positive changes in the lives of the people of the border region of Kargil. After having faced a war and displacement from their houses, life seems to be normal for the thousands of Kargil residents.As the peaceful Shia population dominating this extremely conservativeland-locked district is now reaping the benefits of the ceasefire, they don’t forget to pray for the longevity of this "fragile peace".Joining them in this prayer for permanent peace on the borders of Kargil, are hundreds of Kargili women and girls who, after tasting peace, want it to become permanent.Situated at an altitude of 2,704 m, 204-km from Srinagar in the West and 234-km from Leh in the East, this Shia-dominated conservative district situated close to the Line of Control in Ladakh suffered much devastation during the 1999-Kargil conflict.But since Kargil war, a number of developments are taking place in Kargil region. The IT revolution is knocking at Kargil doors, computer centres are being opened and army is expanding its network of Army Goodwill Schools (AGS) to the entire district. But the most prominent and positive change visible in this orthodox region is its conservative Shia girls and women coming out in big numbers for economic empowerment.As a bright Sun rises over the beautiful, barren hills of Kargil town situated on the banks of gushing Suru river, with her head properly covered with scarf, Razia Bano, a young Shia girl from Wakha village treads her way to the Women Empowerment Centre situated in the heart of Kargil town. So does dozens of other Shia Muslim girls who couldn’t remain untouched from the winds of change sweeping Kargil.A class 12 pass-out, Razia Bano could not go to college for her higher studies. As such, the conservative set up in Kargil does not encourage girls to come out of their houses, even for higher education.After sitting at home for a couple of years, this once brilliant student however persuaded her parents to seek admission in Women Empower Centre (WEC) which was opened in Kargil town few years ago under Operation Sadhbhavana(Goodwill) by the army.Successfully, she enrolled herself for one year diploma in DTP from the Kargil WEC which has also six internet connections. What would seems like a dream in such far flung and land locked region to Razia Bano, Zakiya Bano (who travels 21 kms everyday from Kumbathang to Kargil to attend computer classes) and many other girls, has became a reality today. Dozens of other girls from Kargil region are undergoing training in many other courses at the WEC.Since past seven years when the Kargil conflict broke out, the 14 Corps of Indian army which was set up in post-Kargil era, undertook massive developmental works in entire Ladakh region. In the area where the temperature touches sub-zero(Up to -60 degree C) and the state administration is literally defunct, the army has been doing a lot for the people of Ladakh. To win the hearts and minds of the people under Operation Sadhbhavana, a number of initiatives such as Women Empowerment Centres have been taken which has started yielding good results."Kargil is a very conservative society. When we opened up WEC and such welfare centres here, there was very less response as Kargil residents looked at us with suspicion,” informed an army officer posted in Kargil adding the Shia Muslims also do not encourage their daughters to move out of the houses-either for jobs or studies. Though women work hard at home and in the fields, but it does not fetch them any money.",1]);//-->As a bright Sun rises over the beautiful, barren hills of Kargil town situated on the banks of gushing Suru river, with her head properly covered with scarf, Razia Bano, a young Shia girl from Wakha village treads her way to the Women Empowerment Centre situated in the heart of Kargil town. So does dozens of other Shia Muslim girls who couldn’t remain untouched from the winds of change sweeping Kargil.A class 12 pass-out, Razia Bano could not go to college for her higher studies. As such, the conservative set up in Kargil does not encourage girls to come out of their houses, even for higher education.After sitting at home for a couple of years, this once brilliant student however persuaded her parents to seek admission in Women Empower Centre (WEC) which was opened in Kargil town few years ago under Operation Sadhbhavana(Goodwill) by the army.Successfully, she enrolled herself for one year diploma in DTP from the Kargil WEC which has also six internet connections. What would seems like a dream in such far flung and land locked region to Razia Bano, Zakiya Bano (who travels 21 kms everyday from Kumbathang to Kargil to attend computer classes) and many other girls, has became a reality today. Dozens of other girls from Kargil region are undergoing training in many other courses at the WEC.Since past seven years when the Kargil conflict broke out, the 14 Corps of Indian army which was set up in post-Kargil era, undertook massive developmental works in entire Ladakh region. In the area where the temperature touches sub-zero(Up to -60 degree C) and the state administration is literally defunct, the army has been doing a lot for the people of Ladakh. To win the hearts and minds of the people under Operation Sadhbhavana, a number of initiatives such as Women Empowerment Centres have been taken which has started yielding good results."Kargil is a very conservative society. When we opened up WEC and such welfare centres here, there was very less response as Kargil residents looked at us with suspicion,” informed an army officer posted in Kargil adding the Shia Muslims also do not encourage their daughters to move out of the houses-either for jobs or studies. Though women work hard at home and in the fields, but it does not fetch them any money.The WECs, on the other hand, not only empower women of remote Kargil areas by training them in knitting, weaving, tailoring, embroidery, carpet weaving etc. and making them self reliant but the women undergoing training at the centre also get paid while being trained. Such activities are in fact a step towards providing opportunity to the women of this area to generate additional income for their families and take part in decision making at village level.For the six months’ period of winter, when the Zojila Pass, the gateway to the frontier region of Ladakh, gets blocked due to heavy snowfall, the women empowerment centres and Adult Literacy Centres help the local women a lot. While they not only learn vocational skills at the empowerment centre and can also sell their products like shawls, sweaters, Bal Kalavas etc here, at the ALCs, they learn how to read and write.Women can weave a small carpet or do embroidery over a shawl which can fetch them anything from Rs 150 to Rs 1000. Besides, the WEC products like mufflers, gloves, Bal Clavas (monkey caps) woollen socks etc. are purchased by the families of the soldiers and officers. Besides, these are put on sale in the Cooperative melas organized by AWWA (Army Wives Welfare Association).Initiatives such as empowerment centres are undoubtedly helping the women of this Shia Muslim-dominated area break the shackles. Scores of conservative Shia girls are now slowly and gradually coming out to get themselves trained in vocational training centres as part of the development coming through various state government schemes and Army’s Operation Sadhbhavana."For us, this is a big achievement that now we have about over 20 girls in the WEC. We have trained over 150 women at this centre which was established more than six years ago," informs Mohammad Hassan, the tailoring and knitting instructor at the WEC adding though few conservative Shia people are resisting to these positive changes taking place in this forbidden land, yet the younger generation is quite excited about the developmental projects. More and more women of Kargil now taste some degree of degree of economic independence.",1]);//-->The WECs, on the other hand, not only empower women of remote Kargil areas by training them in knitting, weaving, tailoring, embroidery, carpet weaving etc. and making them self reliant but the women undergoing training at the centre also get paid while being trained. Such activities are in fact a step towards providing opportunity to the women of this area to generate additional income for their families and take part in decision making at village level.For the six months’ period of winter, when the Zojila Pass, the gateway to the frontier region of Ladakh, gets blocked due to heavy snowfall, the women empowerment centres and Adult Literacy Centres help the local women a lot. While they not only learn vocational skills at the empowerment centre and can also sell their products like shawls, sweaters, Bal Kalavas etc here, at the ALCs, they learn how to read and write.Women can weave a small carpet or do embroidery over a shawl which can fetch them anything from Rs 150 to Rs 1000. Besides, the WEC products like mufflers, gloves, Bal Clavas (monkey caps) woollen socks etc. are purchased by the families of the soldiers and officers. Besides, these are put on sale in the Cooperative melas organized by AWWA (Army Wives Welfare Association).Initiatives such as empowerment centres are undoubtedly helping the women of this Shia Muslim-dominated area break the shackles. Scores of conservative Shia girls are now slowly and gradually coming out to get themselves trained in vocational training centres as part of the development coming through various state government schemes and Army’s Operation Sadhbhavana."For us, this is a big achievement that now we have about over 20 girls in the WEC. We have trained over 150 women at this centre which was established more than six years ago," informs Mohammad Hassan, the tailoring and knitting instructor at the WEC adding though few conservative Shia people are resisting to these positive changes taking place in this forbidden land, yet the younger generation is quite excited about the developmental projects. More and more women of Kargil now taste some degree of degree of economic independence.Many pass outs from here have actually turned entrepreneurs and gained employment. Through Empowerment Centres, they are trying to make a living for themselves and educate their children. Many women who received vocational training have set up their own businesses.“Many girls started their own boutiques after being trained in tailoring or even started stitching clothes of the people while many others got jobs in the state and central schemes launched for the rural and border people of the state,” informs Colonel G.P. Kamat, who is looking after Sadhbhavana project at the 14 Corps, Leh.“Our main aim is to make the women of Ladakh especially Kargil self-reliant, independent and economically empowered so that they can contribute to the development of the local economy,” says Lt. General J.K.Mohanty, Leh Corp Commander adding that they have a deep commitment in carrying out this role through various projects undertaken by the troops deployed in this region."If a society, especially in remote areas, is to develop, both men and women have to contribute their bit. The women\'s empowerment centre provides technical and vocational skills to womenfolk so that they can supplement the income of their family," said Mohanty.In this cold desert where survival is the main question for the people who face so many difficulties, the Army believes that border management is a sum game of human security which includes Human Development and Border Security. While Border Security is being looked after by the troops up-front, human security is being addressed with such initiatives.A visit to Kargil which is divided into seven blocks namely Kargil, Drass, Sankoo, Taisuru, Shargole, Shakar-Chiktan and Zanskar and one sees for herself human development. In Dras, the second coldest inhabited place on the earth after Siberia where the minimum temperature recorded is -60 degree Celsius, the WEC Dras named as Zaito Empowerment Centre caters to the women of the area who want to stand on their own.",1]);//-->Many pass outs from here have actually turned entrepreneurs and gained employment. Through Empowerment Centres, they are trying to make a living for themselves and educate their children. Many women who received vocational training have set up their own businesses.“Many girls started their own boutiques after being trained in tailoring or even started stitching clothes of the people while many others got jobs in the state and central schemes launched for the rural and border people of the state,” informs Colonel G.P. Kamat, who is looking after Sadhbhavana project at the 14 Corps, Leh.“Our main aim is to make the women of Ladakh especially Kargil self-reliant, independent and economically empowered so that they can contribute to the development of the local economy,” says Lt. General J.K.Mohanty, Leh Corp Commander adding that they have a deep commitment in carrying out this role through various projects undertaken by the troops deployed in this region."If a society, especially in remote areas, is to develop, both men and women have to contribute their bit. The women's empowerment centre provides technical and vocational skills to womenfolk so that they can supplement the income of their family," said Mohanty.In this cold desert where survival is the main question for the people who face so many difficulties, the Army believes that border management is a sum game of human security which includes Human Development and Border Security. While Border Security is being looked after by the troops up-front, human security is being addressed with such initiatives.A visit to Kargil which is divided into seven blocks namely Kargil, Drass, Sankoo, Taisuru, Shargole, Shakar-Chiktan and Zanskar and one sees for herself human development. In Dras, the second coldest inhabited place on the earth after Siberia where the minimum temperature recorded is -60 degree Celsius, the WEC Dras named as Zaito Empowerment Centre caters to the women of the area who want to stand on their own.Here too girls from neighbouring areas like Muradbagh, Holial, Goshan etc come to learn vocational courses. Fatima Bano who learnt stitching and knitting here is now the supervisor/instructor of the Centre. In a small town like Dras, she has become a role model for scores of other village girls who come to learn various courses from here and then earn a living for themselves.Fatima herself believes that the Women Empower Centres at Kargil and Dras have helped in widening the vision of women besides enhancing their self confidence. Her aim too, she says, is to impart vocational training for upgradation of skill among women in various fields with the over all aim of making them better educated and more empowered.In this militancy-free district of Ladakh which was recently in news due to clashes between the Buddhist and Muslim communities, coming out of their houses, entering adult literacy centres and acquiring vocational skills to earn a living is something which these women could never dream of. Perhaps, the army rightly believed that women should be the main tools of change in the region and thus also for conflict prevention. Hence these WECs and the ALCs.For those Kargili women who couldn’t still come out of their houses to attend the welfare centres regularly owing to family circumstances but wanted to do start some work so as to earn a living or supplement their husbands’ meagre earnings, army took more initiatives. It invited a team of eight experts from Himalayan Environmental Studies and Conservation Organization (HESCO) Dehradun to Kargil which conducted a course here to train 46 women from all over the region in the preparation and preservation of items like agarbatti/ dhoop, jam, squash, pickles, baking of biscuits and so on using local resources.After getting trained here, these women have started working from their homes only. Besides, new vocations like candle making, basket weaving, biscuit baking, food processing, block printing etc are also being added to the WECs here.",1]);//-->Here too girls from neighbouring areas like Muradbagh, Holial, Goshan etc come to learn vocational courses. Fatima Bano who learnt stitching and knitting here is now the supervisor/instructor of the Centre. In a small town like Dras, she has become a role model for scores of other village girls who come to learn various courses from here and then earn a living for themselves.Fatima herself believes that the Women Empower Centres at Kargil and Dras have helped in widening the vision of women besides enhancing their self confidence. Her aim too, she says, is to impart vocational training for upgradation of skill among women in various fields with the over all aim of making them better educated and more empowered.In this militancy-free district of Ladakh which was recently in news due to clashes between the Buddhist and Muslim communities, coming out of their houses, entering adult literacy centres and acquiring vocational skills to earn a living is something which these women could never dream of. Perhaps, the army rightly believed that women should be the main tools of change in the region and thus also for conflict prevention. Hence these WECs and the ALCs.For those Kargili women who couldn’t still come out of their houses to attend the welfare centres regularly owing to family circumstances but wanted to do start some work so as to earn a living or supplement their husbands’ meagre earnings, army took more initiatives. It invited a team of eight experts from Himalayan Environmental Studies and Conservation Organization (HESCO) Dehradun to Kargil which conducted a course here to train 46 women from all over the region in the preparation and preservation of items like agarbatti/ dhoop, jam, squash, pickles, baking of biscuits and so on using local resources.After getting trained here, these women have started working from their homes only. Besides, new vocations like candle making, basket weaving, biscuit baking, food processing, block printing etc are also being added to the WECs here.How the winds of change are sweeping across the conservative Kargil well be gauged from the fact that more stress is now being given on the education of girls in Kargil.Since the institution of the Kargil Autonomous Hill Development Council, special emphasis is being laid to promote girl enrolment in the district. As education can bring about desired changes, many schools have been opened in Kargil and girls are being encouraged to study.In the Kargil Hill Council which was constituted in 2003, there are 30 elected Councilors 26 and 4 are nominated. What is heartening is the fact that while there are two women councillor in Leh Hill Council, Kargil Hill Council has three women."As more and more Kargili women are opening up to the changes around them, they definitely want their children to get educated in good schools like the Goodwill schools which would surely be better than the government schools,” says Dr. Suba Chandran, Assistant Director, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi."And if such efforts like women empowerment centres are running successfully, such initiatives can be a sound strategy for conflict prevention resulting in ensuring peace in Ladakh," adds Dr. Chandran asserting that this can pave way for "war prevention" and not"winning wars". EOM"In the silence of your heart,you\'ll receive the command" -The Mother

-KAVITA SURI

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