Independent India turns 75 this year and no celebration would be complete without honouring the women whose work and passion take the nation to greater heights every day. This series is News18’s salute to the women who have broken barriers to elevate India economically, socially, and politically.
In this edition, we meet Kashmir’s feisty Wushu player, a young entrepreneur who harbours dreams of entering politics one day and the first woman Waqf Board chairperson of Kashmir who did not let lack of support kill her dreams.
Wushu world gold medallist Sadia Tariq is defiant by nature. It was this defiance which ensured Sadia — who had a bruised and bloodied lip after her first taekwondo class in standard 3 — overcame the initial objections to her decision to take up Wushu, a form of Chinese martial art.
“I was very interested in wrestling, which my maternal grandfather would watch. Then I began to love Wushu and decided to practice. After a small Wushu bout I played, I was very injured. But I actually liked the fact that I was hurt during a game. However, when I came home, my mother began to cry and she, along with my other relatives, told me I should not play the game anymore. It was my father who told me to stop worrying and go ahead,” she says.
Sadia is the younger of two sisters and her father is a video journalist in Srinagar. A child of turmoil, she stands out for having won three gold medals consecutively in a relatively new sport just recognised in the country.
Coming from Kashmir, Sadia’s achievements have been noticed and her biggest surprise was when she was told that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had tweeted congratulating her after she won the gold medal at the Moscow Wushu championship, bang in the middle of the Russia-Ukraine war.
However, Sadia’s journey was not a bed of roses and began with failure — like when she lost her first match in Kolkata in 2019. But the feisty girl decided that she couldn’t give it up, especially when her father, her biggest inspiration, told her to march ahead.
“In 2020, I played in Haryana and won my first gold medal. I was so happy that I broke down. I went on to win another gold next year and got the chance to go to Russia for my first international match,” she said.
The pressure was immense. In poor health and pitted opposite world-class players who had better facilities and training, Sadia braced herself for a loss. The height of her competitors was the first hurdle she had to cross. “The Czech opponent was tall and better built. I was smaller in comparison. But I knew I had to do it. When after three rounds my hand was put up as a sign of my win, I collapsed and broke down into tears. It was then I was told that the prime minister had tweeted for me and I couldn’t believe it. I wanted to go back to my hotel room to speak to my parents.”
Sadia’s win is now a victory for many young Kashmiri girls like her. In a conservative society like hers, sports of any kind is frowned upon.
For her mother, the bigger challenge was to ward off disapproving relatives. “But once my daughter won awards, many of those relatives are silenced and several girls want to play,” she says. Sadia tells me: “Many relatives are nice to my face but behind my back, they say girls should not play. I don’t care because I want to win more and silence them. My mother is also pressured but my parents ensure I get all facilities, including a good diet.”
Sadia wants to become a police officer, while carrying on with Wushu. The stares she got while travelling by bus to stadium for training, the taunts her parents faced, the lack of government funds, her parents spending more than Rs 1,000 only on her diet daily, have only firmed up Sadia’s resolve to “show to all that I can do it — both in Wushu and as a police officer. This is important for me, my family and Kashmir. And also to tell the men and boys that I can beat them”.
Insha Muzaffar’s office in Berzula, Srinagar, is done up in peach pink. But that’s the only gender-related cliché defining the 23-year-old’s life. Beginning her journey as an entrepreneur at the age of 21 with a Rs 30 lakh loan from a bank, Insha started off with a salon but now runs a successful derma clinic and a café named Molly’s.
“The building I work from belongs to my father but that’s all the help I have taken from him. Most people told me not to take risks and just run a salon. But I decided to open a derma clinic and today, I have some high-profile clients,” she said.
However, at every stage, Insha was reminded of her gender. Her long hours at work — she goes to office at 9am and reaches home at about 10pm — have been an irritant to many of her relatives, with many of them questioning her character.
“Getting permission for opening a salon and also getting loans sanctioned by banks meant they looked at me wondering whether I can do it,” she said. But, she proved them all wrong.
Today, her RK Studio is one of the most successful and reputed salons in the state. Her cafe buzzes with youngsters and her derma clinic boasts of a clientele ranging from politicians to the who’s who of Kashmir and beyond.
“When I began working, I had to sacrifice a lot. I could not give time to my family and friends, go to weddings or functions like girls my age do,” she said. This is another reason why Insha has decided to not get married for now. She knows it’s something she can’t escape for long but with a loan of Rs 60 lakh on her head, the young girl is sure that marriage would mean having to cut down on her working hours and ambitions — a proposition she isn’t ready for yet.
Insha’s eyes are set on achieving more highs in her business, starting with paying back her loan. “I know my in-laws may not be very supportive so I don’t want to give up my dreams.”
This is not to say that being an entrepreneur hasn’t forced the 23-year-old to make many compromises. This includes not just giving up on her personal life but also her choice of clothes. “I now wear salwar-kameez and not western dresses. I used to wear jeans earlier but have stopped now because I noticed that employees of government offices or banks would stare at me and not take me seriously. This constant character assassination bothers me a lot. We live in a small place where everyone know everyone and judges you by the way you dress. Many women politicians who visit me also tell me they have to dress in a particular way. We can’t be what we want to be.”
The expectation to dress a certain way to be accepted contradicts the theory of women empowerment. Probably that’s why Insha nurtures a secret dream — to join politics someday. “It’s important to be politically empowered to be really powerful. I find political stability has increased after revocation of Article 370. I think men need to be empowered now as women are getting more empowered,” Insha adds with a laugh.
“When I am alone, I look in the mirror and wave to an imaginary crowd. I want to be a neta someday,” Insha says of her dream that she hopes will be fulfilled soon. “Inshallah,” she adds, with a determined look on her face.
From being a college leader to becoming the first woman Waqf Board chairperson of Kashmir, the journey of Darakshan Andrabi has been mired with rebellion, opposition and rejection by her peers.
Darakshan formed her own party called the Socialist Democratic Party since she was not accepted by any outfit. Even her own family never supported her and the bitterness and hurt is evident at times.
“I spoke about hoisting the ‘tiranga’, I spoke out against separatists. This was not what anyone was ready to accept. I fought alone with my own money. I was under threat but I carried on. Not even my parents supported me,” she said.
Andrabi says times may have changed but the way society looks at women remains constant. “They think those who have entered politics must have either compromised or something must have happened to us for us to do this. It’s easier for entitled women like Mehbooba Mufti whose father was chief minister but for women like me, who had neither any family support nor anyone in politics, it has been a terribly hard journey.”
Adrabi has dared to do things which few have even thought of in her UT. She chose to align with the BJP, a party frowned upon in Jammu & Kashmir. She has no soft corner for separatists, which makes her an easy target and forced her to live in an almost fortress-like apartment in the heavily protected Tulsi Bagh area of Srinagar.
While her party has had almost a no-show politically, Andrabi has never shied away from fighting and putting up candidates. She has now been appointment Waqf Board chief, the first woman in Kashmir to be given the title. This too invited sniggers as she is considered ideologically compromised, especially after revocation of Article 370.
“There was never a day when I didn’t think I should give up and wind up my party. But then by evening, I decided to fight back.” And she did.
Andrabi remains a controversial leader in Kashmir. “I know there were those who found it difficult to accept me. Their smiles hid their grudge but I don’t care. I do what I do.” The lack of support from her parents rankles her but she takes it in her stride as yet another challenge.