In a society where women entrepreneurs are unheard of, Shazia Khan profiles a young and successful entrepreneur Shahala Ali Sheikh who has carved a success story out of wood carving business.
Shahala Ali Sheikh is a distinguished, young and successful entrepreneur of the valley. Though she didn’t possess any sound academic qualification in business management but with the virtue of her talent and determination, she has carved a niche for herself.
Hailing from an affluent family of Srinagar, her grandfather and father were in the timber business, and later she decided to carry the legacy forward.
At present, she is single-handidly managing the business of walnut furniture manufacturing and interior decoration worth millions of rupees.
Though Shahala hasn’t started exporting her products in a big way but her furniture is not something everyone can afford. She says, “Everything that comes out of my factory is made on order. We stress more on quality than quantity.”
Maybe for this reason, her furniture products not only are gaining popularity in state but her clientele spreads across India and abroad.
Ask her was breaking the taboo easy, she says, “When you move beyond your fear, you feel free. Often the fear you let build up in mind before attempting any new thing is worse than the situation that actually exists.”
“No doubt whenever woman wished to do anything new, she faces the opposition. I have experienced the similar situation. Many times people didn’t take me seriously but it doesn’t mean I left everything as it was. I fought for my rights”, says Shahala.
Though her journey seems quite smooth, it is not as smooth as it seems. She made that task possible which others would have found impossible to do at the time when the conflict was at its peak.
Shahala lost her father when she was only six years old. Her mother brought her and other two sisters up without the support of any male member.
She received her secondary education from Valley’s Presentation Convent High School and later stepped out from state and did graduation in commerce from Bangalore’s Mount Carmel College.
“In the early nineties, the situation was very unpleasant in the valley. The whole education system was collapsed; the three-year graduation system took four years to get completed. For that reason, my mother sent me to Bangalore for further education”, says Shahala Sheikh.
However, during all the years of her graduation at Bangalore Shahala was restless within. “It was a hard decision for me to continue my studies outside Kashmir. There is a strong bound which has connected me to my land. I felt I had lost my goal for working in my own state”, says Shahala.
After completed her graduation, Sahahala’s mother wanted her to continue studies there but she decided to return to valley and rediscover herself. On returning back, she revived her late father’s furniture business and the contract with French firm that was signed by her father.
“It was not easy to start the venture during the mid nineties. The whole valley was disturbed because of unstable political conditions. Strikes, killings, encounters, bomb blasts were a common sight”, says Shalala.
However, she managed and made it possible with her ‘can do attitude’. “I am very passionate about my work. If I decided to do anything I put all my efforts and endeavour in achieveing it. No matter how difficult it is”, adds Shahala.
Presently, about 30 – 35 workers including managers and skilled labourers from outside are enrolled as employees in her business that registers an annual turnout of millions of rupees.
Shahala is enjoying a unique position in valley as she is working here and contributing positively to traditional yet stylish Kashmiri walnut furniture at domestic and international level. This makes her feel proud. She is the woman with vision and has more plans for future which includes bringing Kashmiri walnut furniture at the top of international market.
Shahala is also an environmentalist – a member of the People’s Ecological Council that is trying to protect Kashmir’s ecology. Though she is working with timber but she is more concerned about the forests and plantation in valley.
Women like Shahala have set an example for those who think militancy ridden Kashmir is a nightmare for women to work in. “I have created my ground and have achieved what I dreamt for myself. I am strong and persistent within. My efforts and endeavors have borne fruit”, concludes Shahala.