For the first time many Kashmiri women are holding positions of consequence in the state administration. Shazia Yousuf profiles 11 of them to get a peep into their rise in the male dominated society.

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Woman have been making tremendous progress in the male dominated Kashmir society. From an exponential increase in female literacy to topping the board exams to taking up decision-making posts in the administration, the picture has never been more rosy. After netting a good chunk of jobs in teaching, medicine and other traditional fields, women are foraying into judiciary, business and entrepreneurship besides some of them rising to top posts in the state administration- an area dominated by men. Right now some of the vital administrative posts are held by Kashmiri women besides a noted woman jurist is the Pricipal Sessions and District Judge, Srinagar. Though most of them come from the elite, woman from middle and lower middle class are also making it into the echelons of power.

The Beacon

She has many firsts to her credit. Becoming the first female Divisional Commissioner of Kashmir is just one of them. Born in an educated family in 1952, Naseem Lankar was destined to do well in her studies. “I don’t remember any examination where I stood second,” says Naseem.

Her father, A M Lankar was the first IAS officer from Kashmir to head Indian Audits Accounts Service. In 1977 Naseem and Tanveer Jahan were the first Kashmiri Muslim woman to qualify for Kashmir Administrative Services.

She did her schooling from Mallinson Girls school Srinagar and graduated in humanities from Government Women’s college Srinagar. She did post-graduation in English from Kashmir university. After completing PG, Naseem taught in the same department for more than a year before qualifying KAS on Nov 2, 1977. In 1993, Naseem was inducted into IAS.

During her career, Naseem worked in many departments like education, planning, handicrafts, finance, social welfare and, Housing and Urban Development. Naseem sees “experience of working in development side” as an advantage. “Experience of working in development side made me to focus more on development. It doesn’t matter if you do not accomplish all tasks, at least, you can take initiatives,” she says.

Naseem’s initiatives as divisional commissioner include coordination in different development activities, which she says, was necessary to achieve “concrete results of development”. “That is what we call integrated development,” she says. Naseem says her aim is to carry out development works without causing trouble to people. “Though development is necessary it should not come at the cost of somebody’s prosperity. Having a broader road doesn’t make sense to a person who loses his house,” Naseem says.


With the distinction of being the first female Deputy Commissioner of Srinagar, Tanveer Jahan is a known figure in the state administration. Born in a business family, the 1977 batch KAS officer did her schooling from Presentation Convent. After graduating from Women’s College Srinagar, Tanveer moved to Delhi to pursue post graduation in political sciences.

Since February 2009, when she took charge as Secretary Tourism, she has been working overtime to revive tourism in the state. “Tourism industry suffered most in last two decades, so for me the challenge is to revive this industry. Another challenge is to reintroduce tourism to our younger generation who because of troubled years know nothing about it,” she says.

Tanveer wants to take tourism in Kashmir beyond Dal lake and Mughal gardens. “Destinations in Bhaderwah, Poonch Rajouri are being explored and steps are being taken to develop new tourist spots under the categories like adventure tourism, pilgrimage tourism, leisure tourism, and heritage tourism,” she says.

Besides identifying and developing new tourist spots in the state, she wants to portray “right picture” of Kashmir. “I have been taking help from media to portray the right picture of Kashmir that has unfortunately been maligned by the media,” Tanveer says.

Starting as an under secretary in Agriculture department after KAS, she has served in many departments. Tanveer’s first stint in the tourism department was in 1986, as deputy secretary.

Apart from bringing new destinations on tourist map, Tanveer says facilities are being made available at existing tourist resorts. “I want to make natural beauty spots people friendly by keeping all facilities available there. We have already introduced internet cafes with wi-fi, cafeterias and toilets at many places.”

The Juror

Gous-ul-Nissa Jeelani

Gousia Jeelani, the Principal District and Sessions Judge Srinagar, became the first woman Munsif of J&K in 1979 at an age of 26. A resident of Nawakadal, Srinagar, Gousia wanted to become a doctor. “My mother wanted me to be a doctor and I too had no intention to go against her wishes. It was one day when I was sitting in Nawakadal school library that I read the profile of first female judge of India in a newspaper. Before finishing the article, I had already decided to become a judge,” recalls Gousia.

After completing her graduation in 1973, Gousia saw a notification in newspaper about LLB course in Aligarh Muslim University. She applied without telling anybody. “The toughest part was to convince my family to let me move outside the state,” she says.  After completing LLB, Gousia returned to practice law. “Joining court was a challenge. It was a male dominated profession and there was lot of family pressure,” she says.

There were societal pressures as well. “A neighbor once saw me in court premises and told another person, ‘see these Geelani’s! Have they lost everything that made them send their daughters among criminals’,” Gousia recalls.

She practiced law for two years and in February 1979 was appointed as Munsif. In 1982 after PSC examination her services were regularised. Later she was promoted to Sub-judge and appointed as Chief Judicial Magistrate Srinagar. At that time, militancy was at its peak, making her work difficult. “One day a person came to my chamber and threatened me. He was asking me to send him to jail. I told him I can give him security but cannot send him to jail. He broke a glass and hit me repeatedly on face,” recalls Gousia. She was hospitalised and received multiple stitches on face. Gousia after her recovery was offered alternative postings, which she refused. “I was not a coward.”

Gousia plans to write book on her experiences as a judge, “Being a female judge I had to prove myself. Again and again.”

The reformer

Kaneez Fatima disposing off a case in a court in Srinagar
Kaneez Fatima disposing off a case in a court in Srinagar

Born in a family of bureaucrats, Kaneez Fatima chose law for a career. Her father M Shamas-ud-Din was an IAS officer and retired as chairman PSC. Her forefathers were in administration during Maharaja’s rule.

The District judge, Kaneez was born at Mattan in Islamabad. His grandfather had got a school for his village sanctioned from Maharaja. Kaneez and her cousins started their education in that very school. She passed matriculation from Government Girls High School Mattan and 12th standard from an Islamabad school. After graduating from Government Women’s College Srinagar, Kaneez studied law at Aligarh Muslim University. She completed her degree in 1977 and joined the Bar, where she practiced law for four years.

“That time women lawyers were unheard of. People would laugh at me. Only three or four female advocates would be in court and people would peep through the windows in amusement and make astonished faces as if they would see animals in zoo,” recalls Fatima.

Kaneez Fatima was the first women judge at matrimonial court where she spent most of her professional years. “Family matters are sensitive and the authorities thought that a female judge can do justice with family matters,” she says.

She started organizing legal awareness camps. “In Pulwama I was also looking at the administration of the district so I started holding awareness camps in far flung areas. I would make women aware about their legal rights and how they can use and fight for them without any money,” she recalls. These steps later generated lot of litigations which for Kaneez was a source of satisfaction.

Presently she is presiding officer in motor accidents claims tribunal. Though she says her authority could not be questioned but the “journey so far has been tough as women are always under scanner in the male dominated profession”.

The Principal pedagogue

When Dr Shahida Mir joined GMC as student in 1971, the medical college was ranked third in the country. After 28 years in March 2009 when she took over as principal of the same college it had sank to rank 19.

Her first priority, she says was to streamline the college calendar. A five year MBBS course would take at least six years and at times up to eight years. Dr Shahida says this year all the examinations were held as per calendar for the first time. “My decisions are harsh at times but when you want reforms they have to be like that,” she says. Her next priority is the improvement of work culture.

She adds that she has upgraded infrastructure and faculty of GMC and associate hospitals. The department of biochemistry has been given status of Research Centre. Twenty two departments have been recognized by Medical Council of India. The department of peadiatrics which had applied in 1976 for recognition got recognized this year. G.B Pant hospital also got recognized.

There are bigger challenges though. Two postgraduate departments of the hospital have been derecognized by MCI.  Born and brought up in an educated family, Dr Shahida has been a meritorious student all along. She stood first in three subjects in MBBS and was awarded as the Best women Graduate.

She completed her PG and completed her registrarship in the same hospital. After topping PSC examination she was appointed as assistant professor in 1990. She was promoted to Associate professor and then professor in 2000 and also Head of the Department gynaecology and obstetrics which she headed for four years. In 2007 she was offered the post of principal, but she refused then, “I wanted to be a teacher and a practicing doctor, I never wanted to go in administration,” she says.

The college applied for DNB (Diplomate of National Board – a course equivalent to MD or MS) in Microbiology and Radiodiagnosis this year.

The college has also purchased land in the vicinity for setting up a Regional Institute of ophthalmology. Besides other achievements, Dr Shahida says, the department of ophthalmology was upgraded, a cath-lab was set up for the department of medicine and a neo-natal intensive care unit was set up in GB Pant hospital.

A women’s woman

When Hafeeza Muzaffar took the charge of secretary Women’s Commission in 2006, there was little staff with hardly any work. “I told them let us start, even if the budget is small at least let’s make a start,” she recalls.

Soon they received some 30 cases. Until now 609 cases have been decided by the commission and presently more than 2000 cases are registered with it.  “Now women withdraw cases from court and come to us. Here cases are settled in days. Every day two to three new cases are registered,” Hafeeza says.

She never falters in taking initiatives. While driving to work she would see other drivers not behaving well with her. To get a feel of conditions in public transport she decided to travel in the local busses. “It was unbearable, especially for a woman,” says Hafeeza about her experience.

After that she conducted workshops with bus drivers and conductors to make them understand that “a little gentle behaviour with passengers wouldn’t do any harm”. “I also wrote to transport commissioner for allotment of more buses and reservation of seats for women in the buses,” Hafeeza says.

Hafeeza also conducted workshops with police and press to sensitize them about women’s issues. “Our aim was that media should stop using images of women in advertising and avoid using pictures of women victims. From police we wanted them to behave well with women,” she says.

Hafeeza’s parents wanted her to go abroad to study and practice law. She chose to stay back. She completed her graduation from Women’s College Srinagar and went to Baroda University to pursue post-graduation. The same year she got married and after completing her studies started looking for a job. She was appointed as assistant project officer in Development of Women and Children in Rural Areas.

In 1995, Hafeeza was transferred to Women’s Development Corporation where she worked as Development Officer. She got another opportunity to work for women when she was appointed as executive director Social Welfare Board.


Zahida Khan’s inspiration is her father Mohammad Ayub Khan who fought first election after 1947 and remained in Cabinet for most of his political life. Zahida was brought up at Jammu where she completed her education. After completing post graduation in English and doing B.Ed and M.Ed, she qualified KAS in 1984. She was appointed as under secretary in higher education department.

During her career she worked in various departments like revenue, health, industries, and handicrafts before taking over as director school education Jammu in July 2008. Besides making herself approachable to employees, from the day one Zahida has been working to sort out the grievances and demands of teachers and other employees in the department. “Unless we make employees comfortable in their work, we cannot expect good results from them. How can a teacher teach with full dedication if he is not happy with his posting or feels uncomfortable for being away from his family,” she says.

Zahida says, she got all the pending promotions cleared. For the first time 830 employees were promoted in one go. In the last just over two years she has promoted 1300 employees in the department. “Earlier, not more than 300 promotions would take place in one go,” she says.

Zahida has been striving for resolving the cases of Rehbar-e-Taleem teachers pending since 2006. “With the co-operation of my employees I cleared pendencies in the department. I have achieved 95 percent success in what I had set to do when I assumed the charge.”

A teacher’s daughter

In the two and a half years as Director School Education, Shagufta Parveen has been very busy as the government upgraded a number of schools and central schemes like Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan helped the expansion of the department.  She says, her first initiative as head of the department was the rationalisation of staff. “The PT (pupil to teacher) ratio in schools was very skewed so I rationalised it as per the requirements,” says Shagufta.

Another initiative was the strengthening of State Institute of Education. The adoption of Remedial Teaching was yet another development where special care was being given to below average students. Though the concept of bridge courses was there, it was implemented during her tenure. Shugufta says her priority was to develop infrastructure of higher secondary schools. “We are setting up computer labs in higher secondaries. Around 70 percent of schools have been provided computer labs.”

From November 2008, the education department has opened 314 primary schools under SSA, up-graded 1020 primary schools to Upper-primary level.

A teacher’s daughter, Shagufta studied in a government school. She passed matric from Government Girls School Rainanwari and graduated from Government Women’s College Srinagar. Shagufta did post-graduation in Sociology at Jamia Millia University, Delhi.


Dilshad Khan is the first woman to head the Rural Development Department. A resident of Khanyar Srinagar, she did her schooling from Government Girls High School Khanyar.  Dilshad always dreamt to be writer, and had to leave her Phd midway to join the KAS in 1983. A postgraduate in political science, her first appointment was as under secretary in Revenue Department in 1984. After serving a host of departments including Medical Education, Higher Education, Industries and Commerce, she was appointed as Additional Deputy Commissioner Budgam, where she spent almost five years. Before becoming the first woman to head the Rural Development Department in 2009, she also served as director Social Welfare department and Director Land Records Kashmir.

“It was a big challenge. People were not talking so high of this department. It was always discussed and most of the times for bad things,” Dilshad says.

So the challenge she says was to make visible changes in the department possible only by implementing centrally sponsored schemes. “There were many schemes that officers were apprehensive of because these involved direct contact of department with the beneficiary. There was no contract based works but labourer to department contact involved in the schemes. There was lot of inhibition about such schemes removing which was my prime focus,” recalls Dilshad.

But Dilshad broke the barrier. The department where the annual expenditure would barely reach Rs 10 crore, spent more than 50 crore this year. This year the department was given the task of completing 65 model villages whose work was left half done earlier, “we have already completed 62 model villages. Only three are left,” Dilshad says.

Many schemes were given wider publicity by making use of media. Dilshad says she ensured the department website updated all the developments. She plans to get some more centrally sponsored schemes implemented.


Daughter of a journalist and granddaughter of state Red Cross’s first secretary, Surraiya Bhat was the first female Child Development Project Officer, and first officer to be given to the charge of urban project in Srinagar.

A postgraduate in sociology as well as social work, Dr Surraiya was probably the first Kashmiri woman to hold a Master’s in social work, when she completed the degree in 1977 from Agra university. She was awarded Ph.D in 1991. Surraiya was appointed child development project officer in 1983 for Srinagar. The project involved establishing Anganwadi training schools in the city. Afterwards, she was appointed as District Social Welfare Officer and District Program officer for Srinagar and Budgam.

The most challenging job she says was during 90’s when she had to implement the Integrated Social Service Scheme meant for the militancy victims. “That was most challenging yet satisfying job. I had to identify victims and then distribute the money among them. It was very hectic and difficult in those troubled times,” Surraiya says.

In 1997 Surraiya was appointed as deputy secretary in Health and Medical Education Department. After that she worked as additional secretary in Social Welfare Department from where she was posted to the department of Science and Technology. Later she was promoted to special secretary in Information department where she worked till 2007.

In 2007, Surraiya again got the chance to work for militancy hit victims when she was appointed as executive director Rehabilitation Council for militancy hit victims.  Presently Surraiya Bhat is the member of Service Selection Board.

The prodigal daughter

Daughter of former union minister Saif-ud-din Soz, Naheed had her schooling at Presentation Convent. She did her post-graduation in geography from Punjab University and M.phil and Ph.D from Kashmir university, in 1997. Naheed worked as assistant professor in IMPA and also served in Rural Development Department before being appointed managing director Women’s Development Corporation in June 2006.

Naheed says she does not believe in welfare but empowering of women by skill development training and financing support. “A woman made profit of Rs. 12,000 in nine days in an exhibition at Jaipur this year. Money will not solve the problem, the skill will. She sold all her products before the ending of exhibition,” adds Naheed.

The corporation takes women to state and national level exhibitions for selling their products. In an exhibition last year a girl from Kupwara won the second prize in sales and another from Shopian won the best display award. “Women from Poonch and Rajouri represent our state in state and national trade fairs now. That is satisfying,” Naheed says.

Naheed wants women to move out of the stereotypes where women are taught “nothing beyond cutting, tailoring and stitching”.  Naheed says, she has successfully been able to develop Self Help Groups under the banner of Block Level Societies which work as NGO’s and help women.

Recently Naheed got a loan scheme sanctioned under which a qualified woman will be provided loan of up to six lakh rupees. “This will be issued district-wise with 100 cases per district,” she adds. For the first time, this year, the corporation received order of 60,000 jute bags from Vaishno Devi Shrine Board.

The WDC runs around 12 centres, which have provided vocational training to almost 700 women and victims of strife.


  1. Breath of fresh air to see names of women on the forefront. Way to go!! I could recognize one name and that is of, Tanveer Jahan. Of course my dearest friend’s name, Nighat Pandit should have been up there as well.As for Tanveer, we were bus stop buddies en route to school, while Uncle Gani kept us busy with his humour. After all he had to, because we all dreaded Sir Balji. I think, Tanveer’s team building prowess comes from Sir Balji. Ha Ha!!
    Basanti ( Bagati) Kaul


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