Incredible Woman: BREAKING TABOOS TO REVIVE KASHMIR’S DYING ‘NUMDHA’

In a place like Kashmir, where choosing business as a profession is traditionally no go for a woman, Arifa Jan in five odd years has created a handicrafts enterprise and a name for herself.

MUKEET AKMALI
Srinagar, Publish Date: Apr 11 2016 11:42PM | Updated Date: Apr 12 2016 1:17PM
Incredible Woman: BREAKING TABOOS TO REVIVE KASHMIR’S DYING ‘NUMDHA’GK Photo

“I never wanted to run after a government job but to do something on my own …”

In a place like Kashmir, where choosing business as a profession is traditionally no go for a woman, Arifa Jan in five odd years has created a handicrafts enterprise and a name for herself. 

Though determined to become a businesswoman, it was by sheer coincidence that Arifa, 29, decided to venture into Kashmir’s traditional business bastion, handicrafts.

“I never wanted to run after a government job but to do something on my own that is why I chose commerce as my subject of study during my undergraduate programme,” said Arifa. 

However, it was during her MBA programme in ‘Craft Management and Entrepreneurial Leadership’ at Craft Development Institute (CDI), Srinagar, Arifa choose to present business plan for revival of Kashmir’s indigenous but dying craft, ‘numdha’ as her master’s project.

The project not only won her the degree but was also selected for a grant by Crafts Council of India for working on the revival of ‘numdha’ and helped her in establishing own business venture.

‘Numdha’, is a traditional felted Kashmir carpet, made by rolling and pressing wool by the application of moisture. Traditionally, Kashmiri drawing rooms would be furnished with ‘numdhas’ in winters creating huge local demand besides it was having a good export market. But that demand died down and exports dwindled in past two decades. 

“During my research I came to know that lack of quality has led to reduction in ‘numdha’ demand in foreign markets.  Subsequently, I decided to explore ways to blend the traditional craft with modern innovations and align it to the contemporary market. I explored different production techniques and designs of ‘numdha’ while mapping and studying new trends in the market,” she said.

After succesfully producing new designs of ‘numdhas’, her first business activity was participation in an exhibition of handmade items in New Delhi. CDI sponsored her for the event.  

“This was the beginning of my entrepreneurial journey, as in the exhibition my newly designed ‘numdhas’ attracted good clientele and fetched me turnover of Rs1.21 lakh. It became a great confidence booster for me,” She said.

Armed with new ideas, innovative methods for revival of ‘numdhas’ and initial success, though, it was not an easy job for Arifa to turn ‘numdha’ production into a full-fledged business. Challenges were enormous, from arranging finances, motivating artisans, to finding new market.

But being a woman, Arifa’s venturing into business was not acceptable to many people.

“Everybody tried to bog me down as I was a woman. They used to criticize my idea of becoming an entrepreneur. Though doing a job was alright,” said Arifa, adding, “I took criticism in my stride and focused to start my enterprise as my father backed my idea.” 

Raising the capital for the startup was another hurdle, as Arifa didn’t want to raise a bank loan. “Paying or receiving interest is forbidden in my religion, therefore a loan was not an option,” said Arifa. “I toiled hard to arrange the initial capital but fortunately I got some help and ‘Incredible Kashmiri Crafts’ came into being.”

And then came a stage to motivate artisans for working on new designs. As the artisans were used to conventional ways, it was hard to convince them on new designs and innovate methods. It would not extra efforts. But in the end few of them were ready to work with me” says Arifa, who feels that majority of the artisans working in Kashmir does not get their due share despite hard work.

“Twenty five artisans are working with me presently and I have increased their wages from Rs175 a day to Rs 450 as their upliftment is my priority because it is they who are the force behind the success of Kashmir handicraft,” Arifa said.

Today, Arifa has many feathers in her cap. Started in 2011, in five years time she has become an accomplished businesswoman with revival of dying ‘numdha’ to her credit. 

“Now with grace of Allah, I have no shortage of buyers as my newly designed ‘numdhas’ which are designed with latest techniques using superior quality raw material and crewel thread has huge clientele not only in India but in outside countries like Australia, Finland, USA and other places,” she said.

Arifa became first Kashmiri woman to be nominated by US State Department for the Women Entrepreneurship Program under which she was awarded US Citizenship Eligibility Certificate in 2014 for her entrepreneurial efforts.

Arifa says would be entrepreneurs need to change negative mindset. “Key to success lies in hard work and sincerity.”

hamidmukeet596@gmail.com

 

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