A Virtual Yarbal

Part of folklore now, Yarbal in Kashmir was not the spot of gossip alone, it was a source of community interaction and involvement. Following the footprints of the past, a young engineer has started a virtual platform, perhaps the biggest gathering of Kashmiri women where problems are divulged, discussed and disposed. Besides, support system is offered to promote women entrepreneurship, reports Saima Bhat 

Yak jut

She found him cheating on her. Uncertain about her decision to give her would-be-husband a second chance, a lady posted her problem on a female exclusive Facebook platform. In response, it was a flood on the virtual yarbal.

“I preferred sharing my problem on this group in a state of desperation,” the lady said. “I was seeking unbiased suggestions and the response helped me in the decision-making.”

This female exclusive group connects 40,000 women. It was started on January 6, 2019, and named Yak jut, a Kashmiri name meaning a joint effort. Started by Syed Hanaz Tariq, 24, an automation engineer, currently serving an Electronic and Automation Company in Pune, this is perhaps the major virtual group of Kashmiri women.

It is home to interesting and peculiar issues and concerns that the women confront. In most of the cases, the members hunt for solutions within the members. “The whole night, she cries herself to sleep. The next day she looks in the mirror and gets ready as if nothing has happened. Facing the world, her family and friends; trying to act normal, she smiles awkwardly and moves ahead. Sometimes she tries to live up to the societal expectations, sometimes she lives for her children, and sometimes she just exists. Years pass, her hair turns grey and one day she ceases to be. How many of us value a woman as an individual rather than the roles she assumes-of a mother, a daughter, or a friend?” Hanaz always thought about the different issues faced by women.

A 2018 graduate, Hanaz, an alumnus of Presentation Convent, was active on various social networking platforms related to fitness, business, social pages but she always felt the need for some platform exclusively for Kashmir women. Her searches for a group turned blank on all social media platforms. So she founded one.

Syed Hanaz Tariq, the founder of Yak jut group

“This group is a business platform for Kashmiri women including Muslims, Pandits, Sikhs and every lady from Kashmir or who is married to a Kashmiri. There is no discrimination.” Hanaz wanted to create a business platform for Kashmiri ladies whom she thinks do not work outside their homes but at the same time, they are small scale sellers. “They don’t have a studio, shops to operate from. And many of them don’t even have a huge following on their Instagram or Facebook pages. So I wanted to create a common platform for all of them irrespective of their background where all would be treated equally.”

Yakjut works on a pattern, a calendar, where days have been assigned for different spheres of life. Monday, for instance, has been kept for social, school, parents-children related issues, Tuesdays for shopping and matrimony, Wednesdays for poetry and arts, Thursdays for shopping and photography, Fridays for health, fitness and medical, Saturdays for discussion and cooking, Sundays for fun and shopping. Meanwhile, help and reviews are open for all days. Hanaz says they hold many competitions and winners are rewarded too.

Yakjut, meaning unity, is an independent group and started by one person but with time when the group gained its momentum she needed help from more people and nine of her team members volunteered for being moderators. “All our moderators are Kashmiri women living abroad and managing the time difference too. And some are living in Kashmir and outside. They are working very well managing their homes, jobs, education and giving all-time for the betterment of the group,” said Hanaz.

She said it was her father whom she consulted for the name of the group for the unity among all Kashmiri women. While managing the group several things are monitored. No men are allowed. “We go through the profiles to check and ensure we don’t add men. Another challenge is men having fake accounts in the name of females so we check when the account has been created, how many friends they have, what content are individuals sharing or do they have any mutual contacts with other women. In case anyone found doubtful we remove them or even block them.”

Hanaz believes Facebook is the best way to interact with people and the platform does not violate privacy. “In WhatsApp, your personal phone number is shared by many. And it’s not possible to connect so many ladies do not use WhatsApp.” She adds, “The best feature about Facebook is you can block anyone who violates your privacy. And for so many activities there can’t be any better platform than Facebook as everything is in front of you without your phone beeping with thousand WhatsApp messages. On Facebook, you get to select the content you are interested in.”

Yak jut timetable

Yakjut, Hanaz said is a core business platform, but the group has covered every other aspect too like women sharing social issues, having important discussions and solving each other’s problems. Along with business, women have taken a step forward to share their other skills like poetry, writing, and developed interest in fitness too.

Presently YakJut has become a game-changer for new entrepreneurs selling suits, bakery, pickles, plants and paintings. It uplifts women socially, mentally and financially, Hanaz claims.

Last year, a Srinagar based housewife and a mother of two minors, Sabira Matoo, 35, uploaded a picture of pickles during the month of Ramadhan on YakJut group, which was made by her mother-in-law and she was overwhelmed when the users started enquiring if she sells it. And a few even started ordering the pickles straightaway, she said. This motivated her to get into the pickle business.

Panun Achaar is a local brand started by Sabira, an MCA graduate from the University of Kashmir.

An MCA graduate from the University of Kashmir, Sabira, who comes from a well to do family always wanted to do something for herself. “After studying so hard most of the girls stay home and limit themselves to their kitchens but the world has changed,” she said. “It is not always about money but sometimes you just want to do something for yourself or for your kids.”

In around three months, her brand Panun Aachar has gained popularity among people as a quality pickle and is recognized as a homemade brand. There is a huge demand for different varieties of pickle which Sabira is making but the most in-demand is her Aloo Bukhar variety.

Her solo journey started in April 2019, and three months later she was assisted by at least three full-time maids at home and ten more women, whom she hired for cleaning and cleansing vegetable. Sabira’s customer base is increasing and she says her varieties of mix vegetable with Aaloo Bukhar, chicken with Aaloo Bukhar, Mutton with Aaloo Bukhar and full Aaloo Bukhar are in demand because she prepares them in her kitchen with proper hygiene and without the mixture of any harmful additives.

Made at home, the products are in demand and have started to create their own place in the market.

The demand for Panun Aachar is not from Kashmir only but people from Delhi, Mumbai, Goa, Bangalore, Chandigarh and Jammu are also asking for its shipments. Sabira started selling it online but now she has a distributor who supplies to city’s all leading departmental stores.

A 500 grams Panun Aachar bottle sells for Rs 400. Sabira says she uses olive oil with glass jars. “When I am myself health-conscious that means I have to think for my customers as well,” Sabira said while crediting her mother in law and her husband, a businessman, for all the support.

“I literally started from zero but two months later I earned around Rs 2.4 lakhs. Since I started I have never looked back,” Sabira said, insisting she lacks time to even visit her parents.

Yakjut helps start-ups run by young women too, by giving them a space to reach out to their potential customers. The start of Everything Homemade coincided with the start of Yakjut and it gave its promoter the first dedicated client.

Sumaya Farooq, the promoter of Everything Homemade, 24, an engineering graduate in Food and Technology, is into making jam, pickles, protein bars and now hot chocolate mix. She claims she has turned her dream of eating healthy food into reality with her brand.

Sumaya Farooq

After completing her degree from the Islamic University of Science and Technology (IUST) in August 2018, Sumaya was home waiting for new admission in masters when her parents started asking her to use her art and interest in cooking into something productive. “During my degree, I did a training programme in Verka Dairy in Ludhiana where I came to know the usage and side effects of preservatives so same moment I decided whenever I’ll start my professional career I’ll always keep health and hygiene in my mind.” Sumaya kept her promise as she avoids using any kind of preservatives in her products.

The first order Sumaya received was from a Srinagar downtown lady for jam. This order was received on Yakjut. “The jam I prepare is made from fruit pulp, no added preservatives, nothing else so when that lady received the order the jam was not in the semi-solid form in which we have other jams available in the market but still she appreciated my efforts and suggested what changes I have to keep in my mind. That feedback boosted my morale and next time I tried to be even better,” said Sumayya, who does not make her orders in bulk but sends them to her customers afresh.

Born to a banker father and homemaker mother, Sumaya says her youngest brother who is in class twelfth is helping her in getting fresh vegetables and fruits from the open market. She has two sisters who are studying in the university.  She is still thankful to Yakjut and her friend who added her to the group that boosted her brand to a new level. Initially, she used to deliver the orders herself but that had become hectic for her so she lined up with a local courier company that delivers the products in 24 hours. Most of her orders are from Srinagar, Bangalore and Anantnag. She sells her products up to Rs 300.

There are different products of various types of which there is an appreciable demand in the market.

She said she goes for double sterilization of her products which increases its shelf life up to one year. Given the youth dependence on fast foods, she decided to get into protein bars, made from peanut butter, oats, honey and nuts which are all nutritious and healthy.

“We remain too busy in our lives so we should remain health-conscious. Taking healthy food can help,” said Sumaya, who incidentally got her first client as the same lady. This time, however, she was satisfied and happy. She ordered these bars for her son studying in the Indian plains.

Sumaya was selected for her master’s in the Kashmir University last year but the responses she has received from her clients is compelling her to continue with Everything Homemade instead.

Since January 2019, she has delivered around 50 jars of jam and 250 jars of pickles. Most of her orders come from Yakjut and a few from her personal Instagram page. Without Yakjut, Sumaya said her success would not have been possible as speaking to her client’s face to face would have been difficult for her. “It is still my start and I have to gain the trust of people first so that they can change their age-old habits of buying products in the market than Everything Homemade,” she said.

Business apart, Yakjut provides a platform for fun, sharing of stories, experiences where ladies give a vent out to their feelings anonymously sometimes.

As this story is being filed, another post has been uploaded on the group written by a lady who had a love marriage. The couple has a kid also but recently the lady developed some problems in her back and her doctor advised her to have complete bed rest for some time. Because of this problem, which is not life-threatening at all, her husband has decided to go for second marriage and she has asked other women for help with what she should do so that she can save her relationship.

Post August 5, 2019, apart from women doing their business, this group emerged as a helping hand to many would-be-brides who were struggling to manage the wedding expenses. The group arranged their trousseau from bridal attires to providing them the basic items they need. Many brides received help in organising their functions too. Women showed keen interest in helping one another and united together in making arrangements for these brides.

Hanaz also said that together the women were able to help a lot of women going through abuse by hearing out their stories, helping them to get connected with lawyers and other organisations for assistance. “At times people need help in giving them the right suggestion and as a huge platform we have been able to do that successfully,” she said.

“Connectivity has improved a lot among the women,” Hanaz said. “With a click, the problem posted gets resolved. At times we have men approaching us and seek help which means people trust us.”

There is sort of proxy support also taking place. Members of this female-exclusive group support their partner’s, brother’s or friend’s businesses. This happened because after pandemic lockdown people could not move around much and businesses suffered.

Besides, the group has started sponsoring various courses for women to help them understand entrepreneurship. “We help them in their start-ups so that in future they can help others,” said Hanaz.

A medicine pursuing student outside Jammu and Kashmir, Seerat, 23, was quarantined in March in a local hotel for 14 days. During her quarantine days, she realized that there was a need for her to be the mentor to many people in the quarantine centres.

Hailing from Srinagar, Seerat saw a lady who was in dire need of psychiatric help. The lady was suffering from depression and anxiety and she offered her help. After that she posted her appeal to help women who needed professional help.

After Seerat handled the first case, the lady came up with a beautiful review about her counselling session, which added eight more patients to her list. So far, she has handled more than 145 cases across the globe and she does not charge anything from the patients considering the fact that the world is gripped by the pandemic.

“I don’t prescribe or recommend any medicine to my patients. I believe one’s self moral, self-esteem and self-confidence is enough to get out of depression,” she said

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