Iqra Zainab’s eureka moment came amid the spiteful second wave leaving people breathless and creating new community concerns in Kashmir.
She recalls a message that came in the wee hours of 5 May 2021—breaking her monotony and giving her much-needed break.
“Hey I saw your account’s profile and came to know that you bake great cakes,” read the text on her Instagram account. “For the birthday of one of my pals, could you kindly prepare a chocolate cake?”
The message from an unknown user came as a breath of fresh air amid gloom and prompted the young girl to respond: “Yes, why not!”
“This is how my formal baking journey began,” says Iqra, a commerce graduate. “Before that I would just bake for my family and post pictures on Instagram for reviews.”
The reassuring response motivated Iqra to start an Instagram page, “Sweet sensations by Iqra”.
In the beginning, she recalls, she could barely get any business, but as her reach expanded, she started getting orders.
“And now,” she says, “I get two dozen or more orders per month and I truly feel proud to call myself economically independent.”
Iqra is among those girls who have used social media to showcase and promote their talent to the online community in order to gain recognition and get economically independent.
A growing number of young Kashmiri women are pursuing their own businesses as they battle unemployment, uncertainty and a patriarchal social structure.
With social media as their ally, these business owners—in the food and fashion industries alike—are growing more quickly than ever.
Social media, notably, has grown to be a potent tool for online communities in recent years to increase awareness and activate campaigns on a variety of problems. Young entrepreneurs benefit greatly from it since the positive comments and supportive messages about their work serve as inspiration. Most of them are boosting their business using sites like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Youtube.
Many pages on these platforms are founded by female entrepreneurs who, in the past, had few opportunities for employment outside the home because of strict cultural standards. But some of these women, where socioeconomic obstacles are common, have persisted in pursuing their love as a career.
Among them are Jasirah Nabi and Mehak Hanief. The entrepreneur duo from Hawal Srinagar launched their online brand company shortly after completing their Masters in Business Management.
“Despite the fact that we are educated,” says Mehak, “the current economic climate and increased unemployment make it exceedingly difficult for us to obtain employment.”
In light of the fact that many people already practise calligraphy and painting, the two girls wanted to try something new.
“So we came up with the notion of creating premium gifts at extremely low cost,” Mehak says.
The duo was aware that they had a relatively small number of followers when they first created an online page on Instagram by the name of “The Pink Ribbon”.
“We made the decision to first purchase a product, customise it, and then post images of it on Instagram,” says Jasirah.
“We received a fantastic response from the public, and even well-known Bollywood director Sajid Khan liked our initial post. This gave us more hope, and then we received our first order from Delhi. We were overjoyed, and after delivering the product, we read the customer reviews, which really inspired us.”
Despite some of these startups succeeding today, many believe that operating a full-time online business in Kashmir can be expensive due to situational hitches and lack of ecosystem.
“But still,” Jasirah says, “running a business is far better than looking for employment. We erroneously believe that in order to start a business, we need a lot of money, which is untrue. If you’re skilled, you can navigate by yourself. Social media is a very effective instrument. Anyone with the right talents can support themselves. Today, after just one month, we have amassed over 1000 followers and receive at least five to ten orders every week.”
These social-media driven startups have clearly become alternate choice for young Kashmiris amid the soaring unemployment rate.
J&K, as per the ministry of statistics and program implementation report, has the second-highest unemployment rate among educated people after Kerala, where it was 47 per cent.
In fact, the rate of urban unemployment in J&K for people aged 15 to 29 has increased from 44.1 per cent to 46.3 per cent.
The line graph clearly displays the trend in J&K’s monthly unemployment rate from July 2017 to March 2022.
“To get a job under these circumstances,” says Beenish of ‘craft world Kashmir’ fame, “you must struggle through several obstacles.”
The young self-starter along with other girls is creating her own decent living by producing novelty items.
“We [a girl group] made a decision to stand up for ourselves,” Beenish says. “And social media has only helped in our cause.”
Addtional Reporting By Madiha Bhat