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Young Kashmiri woman beats odds to become successful dairy entrepreneur
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 23 - 01 - 2022

SRINAGAR — Poverty had pushed Shahzada Akhtar, a young woman from south Pulwama, to the brink of suicide. She was fighting depression of joblessness and pressure to pay off debts of her father.
Like many Kashmiri women, Akhtar is a breadwinner for her aging parents, siblings and would do odd jobs to make both ends meet in the family.
"My father had borrowed money from a number of people to support our family and he was unable to return his loans on time. Our creditors were exerting pressure on us.
"I used to do irregular jobs like cleaning apple orchards etc. But such jobs were seasonal and as it snowed, my income would cease too," Akhtar told us via an interpreter over phone.
She knows little Hindi or Hindustani language and only converses in Kashmiri.
"It became so difficult in our family that we even stopped purchasing milk and the only luxury at our food plate would be milk-less black tea. It was the time when I felt extreme hopelessness and suicidal," Akhtar recalls her difficult days.
She adds that as the Qur'an says, "Innama'al usri yusran (Verily, along with every hardship is relief). This wisdom came true word by word.
"In 2015, I came in contact with a friend Niloufer, who had been to Andhra Pradesh in connection with some government vocational training under the banner of the National Rural Livelihoods Mission (NRLM).
"She was taught to start many easily-established ventures like sewing set-up, goat farming, cattle farming, cow farming and domestic dairy farming, etc. Once, Niloufer also visited our area with NRLM officials who advised women to make a 10-member self-help group.
"They told us about a scheme known as Umeed (literally translated as hope). As part of this scheme, we had to register our team or enterprise and then open a bank account. We had to submit Rs.25 every week in this account.
"Those days, even managing Rs.25 a week was problematic for me. Anyhow, all members of our group deposited the required amount. And slowly, we managed to have Rs.3,000 in our account.
"This amount was to be handed over to one member to kick-start her start-up," Akhtar shares her memories. She adds that even opening a bank account and managing it was an experience for most group members.
"Later, the project resource person of the NRLM visited our village and audited our bank account. All of its dealings were found to be perfect. It was awarded Grade A and our group was sanctioned Rs.15,000 as part of the charitable fund.
"This Rs.15,000 were equally distributed among three members. One person, who was adept in sewing, purchased a sewing machine and started her tailoring work. The other purchased some goats to rear them for her future goat farm.
"Only, I was confused about what to do with my share of Rs.5,000. I was worried about the creditors of my family and wanted to pay them off with this money. But, it would kill the purpose of the grant. Then, again ease came my way.
"The NRLM released additional Rs.40,000 to our bank account to help us fund our future plans. Realizing my troubles, the group member gave this money to me and advised me to purchase a cow with this. After initial hesitation, I accepted this offer and advice," said Akhtar.
She said that purchasing a cow however didn't solve her problems. "Cow needs a special space in any household and additionally, it has to be fed and looked after properly before you can draw any benefit from her.
"Ours was a small house. Somehow, we made a make-shift cow shed along the wall of our house," said Akhtar.
And thus, Akhtar's enterprise — dairy farming — was ready to take off with a cow. "Another ease came my way. As part of the Umeed scheme, I was given a milking machine cow trolley.
"It makes milking and carrying milk very easy. So, I started selling milk, half kg, one kg, one and half kg... daily. I regularly kept depositing money in my bank account. My income was little, but I was happy and doing work enthusiastically.
"I used to carry the milk to the customers on my own. The NRLM officials were happy with my progress. They lent me Rs.10 lakh to widen my business. I purchased more cows and today, my farm has 25 cows.
"I sell around 300 liters of milk dairy and am regularly paying my bank loan EMIs. Once, as I told you, we didn't have milk in our tea. Now, thankfully, we can offer milk to even our guests," Akhtar said, with her voice choking with gratitude to Allah and the government.
Such has been barkat (blessing of Allah) in her business, Akhtar has employed many women from rural areas in her business. Her brothers, who were unemployed, have opened a shop in Pulwama district and sell milk, cheese and curd.
Verily, along with every hardship is relief! Shahzada Akhtar, 21, of South Pulwama, proves it.
— the writer is Kashmir-based Research Scholar at JNU, New Delhi.

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