What it is like being a female engineer in Kashmir? From being idolized in the peripheries to jeering city crowds Insha Zargar has experienced it all. Saima Bhat tells her story
“Yi kadel che koeri bana’wan…Ye gase neh zhan tay’aar (This bridge is made by girls. It will never be completed)” is what engineer Insha Gandroo Zargar, 34, hears every day since the construction of the Jahangir Chowk-Rambagh flyover started in 2013.
Insha, a junior engineer, has so far overseen the construction of 150 minor bridges for railways as in-charge. “But this current assignment is close to my heart,” says Insha, who did her engineering degrees from AMICE, Delhi.
After completing her degrees in 2003, shares Insha, she had to face a hostile private sector, unwilling to recruit a female civil engineer.
Insha vividly remembers the response of her first interviewer, who at the end of the interview asked her bluntly: Can you do it? Taken aback, Insha, told him plainly, “Why did you call for an interview when you think I wouldn’t be able to do it?”
Her straightforwardness helped Insha get her first job, but not the desired position. “I was assigned to draw designs and do support work. It was disappointing.”
Once in, Insha managed to get herself posted in the field. At that time MandCo, private consultancy company where Insha worked, was monitoring Rs 2000 crore Baramulla-Banihal railway project. “Working in the field was not as easy as I had thought earlier. It was quite challenging,” says Insha.
But despite facing life-threatening situations, where one of their colleagues was killed by militants, Insha stayed put at her on-field campsite. “Had I left midway, it would have been the failure of the entire civil engineering group of girls. Nobody would have ever trusted a girl for this work again,” Insha says.
The journey with MandCo, where her work hours often stretch from 8 am to 9 pm, proved life-changing for Insha. More than once, Insha was approached by contractors with a request to get more female engineers like her. “It automatically boosted my morale.”
But the most cherished part of her association with MandCo was her field trips to rural areas. She was famous among folks as ‘Railway Madam’. “People used to come and get photographed with me. They would even ask for my autograph,” recalls Insha flashing a smile. During her stay in rural areas, Railway Madam was the default chief guest at every marriage ceremony taking place in the neighbourhood. But working in rural areas, especially as a female engineer, has its own drawback. “Entire village would assemble around you to have a good look at you,” says Insha.
After five years, in 2008, Insha left MandCo and joined the J&K government’s Economic Reconstruction Agency (ERA), as a junior engineer in the town planning section. “This was a desk job,” says Insha. “I deliberately chose it as I was expecting my first child.”
Two years later, when her baby girl was able to stay without her, Insha once again asked for a field job. Her second stint with fieldwork coincided with the commencement of the Detailed Project Report (DPR) for the Jahangir Chowk-Rambagh flyover. Sensing the opportunity to become part of this mega project Insha went to see the director JKERA. “I asked him a chance to be part of the flyover project,” recalls Insha.
Initially, recalls Insha, the director was apprehensive, as he thought she might not have the required experience or expertise. “But once I told him about my stint with MandCo and the work I had supervised there, he was okay,” says Insha.
Along with a senior engineer, Insha was entrusted with the job of preparing DPR. “There is a notion that a girl cannot head big projects. She needs a male supervisor to look after,” feels Insha. “But I am hopeful that things will change for the better.”
Insha is right; there is a visible surge in girls who opt for civil engineering as a career. “It (civil engineering) is the best stream for a girl,” feels Insha. “Else, there is a taboo when you are in the office and deal with contractors.”