by Ilhak Tantray

SRINAGAR: Shahida, a 25-year-old from the remote village of Argam, situated in District Bandipora, has become the first Gujjar woman to establish a museum. Nestled amidst the Wullar Lake and Harmukh Mountain, her initiative stands as a testament to her commitment to preserving the cultural heritage of her community. Through the meticulous curation of Gujjar embroidery and traditional crafts, Shahida’s museum breathes new life into a fading legacy.

Shahida runs Noor Centre in Bandipora. Specialising in Gujjar ethnic apparels, the centre is empowering women, and preserving culture

Shahida embarked on her journey during the inter-state cultural community event ‘Balrang’ in Bhopal in 2016. Frustrated by the inability to display her culture, she resolved to preserve the customs and traditions of her community. Opting to prioritize this mission over pursuing additional formal education, Shahida defied societal norms.

Following her graduation from Government Women’s College Srinagar, Shahida established a stitching centre in her parental home, driven by her commitment to revitalising her community’s heritage and lineage. Resisting peer pressure, Shahida embarked on a mission to impart traditional skills and preserve customary practices, aiming to inspire the forthcoming generation.

Following the inaugural year of training, fifty young women have acquired the capacity to augment their families’ financial resources through remote employment opportunities. At Shahida’s Noor Centre, a museum and training facility, fifteen additional girls have enrolled this year to learn various skills such as art, craft, sewing, tailoring, and fashion design. In addition to preserving cultural heritage, Shahida’s initiative fosters financial independence among women, marking a crucial step toward empowering them in modern society.

Suraya, an undergraduate attending Shahida’s Noor Centre, expresses, “Shahida has strengthened our connection to our heritage. I used to lack direction beyond my academic studies, but now I am hopeful for a brighter future.”

Shahida’s Noor Centre, backed by her family and funded through a loan from the District Industries Centre scheme, serves as a beacon of hope for numerous girls in the community, providing avenues for both professional and personal development. Shahida’s father, Abdul Hamid, a government employee, and her companion, Manzoor Ahmad Mir, a BSF soldier, express their pride in her and commend her efforts to positively impact the community.

Abdul Hamid speaks warmly, his gaze fixed on his daughter’s face, as he remarks, “My daughter not only upholds our culture but also has the potential to create employment opportunities for numerous underprivileged girls in the area.”

To further promote Gujjar culture, Shahida presented her work to the Indian President on October 15 of the previous year and participated in indigenous programs.

Shahida envisions a future where her museum evolves into a cultural hub attracting tourists from various places. She believes that establishing a hamlet as India’s first book village could lead to a surge in visitor numbers.

Shahida remains steadfast in her dedication to preserving her community’s traditions and inspiring younger generations as she progresses. Through her passion, reverence, and unwavering devotion, Shahida preserves tradition and lays the groundwork for a stronger, more diverse future for the Gujjar community.


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