Eighteen-years-old Kurat Habib, a resident of down town locality in Srinagar is all surrounded by books these days as her aim is to secure a place for herself in a medical college after appearing in the common entrance test next year. Though she failed to do it last time, now she is confident enough to make it into the list of selected candidates.
Kurat is not the single case, but a majority of girls in her age group aim at doing it big in their life. Sixteen years of turmoil in the Valley have not only changed the political, social and cultural setup of the Valley, but have also changed the priorities of the female population of the area, especially the new generation.
The change is evident from the fact that the marriageable age of the women in the Valley has undergone a remarkable change and now the age for marriage has touched 35, which usually used to be between 20 and 25.
Social scientists in the Valley hold various factors responsible for this significant change in the cultural fabric of the Valley.
"There are various factors responsible for this change, most importantly being the fact that the priorities of the girls have changed. Earlier marriage used to top the list. Now it has been replaced by career and money," says Khalid Hussain, a research scholar in the department of Sociology University of Kashmir.
Adding further he said, "Other factors like financial uncertainty and political instability in the Valley has also led to this change."
During the sixteen years of turmoil in the Valley, it lost around 70,000 of its population and a majority of them were young men, thus creating a shortage of grooms in the Valley.
"I was married when I was 18, but now my two daughters who have crossed their 30's say that they are not yet prepared to get married as they are unable to find a perfect match for themselves," said Fatima Begum, a resident of Raj Bagh locality in Srinagar.
Fatima's elder daughter Farzana who is a lecturer in Women's College Srinagar says, "I am not going to marry any Tom Dick or Harry. The person whom I would marry must be financially secure and needs to be as much educated as I am."
Grooms with government jobs are the most desirable lot in the Valley, but in Kashmir new recruitments have been stopped and government departments only hire people on contractual basis, thus creating a financial insecurity.
"I want to marry the right person, who apart from being handsome is financially sound and has a government job, so that I may not have to repent after my marriage," said Farzana.
But 21-years-old Parveena Bano, a final year student of Women's College Srinagar has other plans for her future. "First I want to attain financial security for myself so that if my married life does not go as planned I may have a secure future, so defiantly my first priority would be to build up my career and only then opt for marriage."
A large number of girls in Kashmir can be seen pursuing higher education, earlier which used to be a male domain in the Valley. "The number of girls who enroll for higher studies in our university has witnessed a phenomenal increase since last decade, when women usually preferred to stay at home. Now they appear in almost every field of study in the university," said an officer in the registration section of the University of Kashmir.
"Marriage in Kashmir has become a business and the girl who is educated and has a job is preferred over non-working ones," said Gazala Gul a student of the department of Political Science at the University of Kashmir.
Experts in the Valley say that the role of the women in Kashmir has seen significant changes during the years of turmoil and now women have a greater say and their voices are being heard by others.
"The responsibility of bread earning shifted to the shoulders of the women folk in the families who lost their sole bread earners. Thus the role of women in such families transformed from breeding and looking after their children to decisions makers," says Asiya Habib coordinator of an NGO run for the welfare of women in the Valley.
She added, "This dramatic change in the lifestyle of women exposed them to the outside world thus making their voices being heard by the outside world too. Be it in politics or bureaucracy women in Kashmir are making their presence felt in every sphere of life."