Change cannot come to Jammu and Kashmir at the grassroots level unless the youth is part of the change. This is the message to her peers from Ovessa Iqbal, 25, the state’s first Muslim woman to qualify for the Union Public Service Commission exam.
Despite the conflict, she said, more and more Kashmiri youths are aspiring to be part of the Indian state. For those who don’t, she had a message: “When we abstain from Indian civil services, we are using an axe on our own feet. Exploitation of Kashmiris will stop only when we take these exams in our stride.”
The youngest daughter of a farmer, Iqbal said her family had always been supportive. Her mother, who died in an accident, was a lecturer. Her elder sister is a lecturer at a Srinagar college while her brother has completed his engineering.
Born in a remote village of Leh, she did her schooling in her hometown but moved to Chandigarh to study chemical engineering at the Panjab University. But after completing the course in 2007, she was at the crossroads.
“My classmates were getting hefty job packages… but there was no concern about how much they could contribute to society,” she said. “I wanted to do something different.”
She qualified in the exam after her third attempt, and is one of the seven to have qualified from the state.
“Women are expected to perform traditional roles in Kashmiri society, despite their education,” she said. “I want to tell my sisters out there to start believing in themselves. We can very much do it,” said Iqbal.