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What women want

Ambitious and politically aware, Kashmir's women prepare to assert themselves through the ballot, reports Ashutosh Sapru.

india Updated: Nov 11, 2008 19:41 IST
Ashutosh Sapru

"Mehbooba Mufti is my idol," said the 22 year old girl. Tazim Akhtar, a first year BSc student, was at the only cyber cafe cum computer training centre in Rajouri taking computer lessons.

Unlike the two boys also taking lessons, she did not have the slightest hesitation in voicing her views. And when I quizzed her about Bollywood, she made it clear that she knew her Shahid (Kapoor) from her Shah Rukh ("Why are you asking me all this? I watch the news. I read, I know.") but stuck to what seemed her favourite topic --- Mehbooba.

"She is very knowledgeable and also knows how to be a good leader," Akhtar said of Mehbooba. "At the same time she knows how to maintain her culture, see how she covers her face with the scarf."

In Jammu, we noticed that the girls wore western clothes, but as we pushed to the interiors the dresses were relatively more conservative - like salwar kameez and scarves to cover the face.

When I remarked as much to 23-year-old Zaheeda Akhtar in Rajouri, she retorted: "It's the mind that matters, not clothes."

If Zaheeda Akhtar had chosen a politician as her role model, the dream of 19-year-old college girl Poonam Sharma in Poonch is to be "like (television journalist) Barkha Dutt".

Akhtar is a school teacher in Rehan village said she could not pursue her post graduation because of lack of support from her family. But she has tried to make up for it - she counsels parents about the benefits of education for the girl-child.

"Parents don't want girls to study" she explained. Her efforts are apparently already showing results. "Earlier there were 10 students, now there are 50 -- and out of that, 25 are girls in our school."

Champa (name changed) a mother of two daughters and the sole breadwinner of her family, supported this view. She could not study beyond class 12 but she says: "I want my kids to have education. I want them to be good citizens."

Even a woman from the nomadic Gujjar community, Shamim, told us she would cast her vote.

According to Zaheeda, "Whosoever will work for us and keep peace and unity in Rajouri will be the best leader. We do not want anyone to play politics with religion."