From past few years, women in Kashmir are venturing into fields, which were considered all-male bastions. Running restaurants to becoming photojournalists, young women here have left no stone unturned to break the societal stereotypes that limit a female's working circle.
Mehreen Amin belongs to that minuscule population of Kashmiri women, who successfully broke the taboos to create their own niche.
This 24-year-old downtown girl from Bohri Kadal claims the title of Kashmir's first professional female fitness trainer and women exclusive gym owner.
Mehreen's story is a tale of overcoming personal and social challenges and following her heart.
Since 2016, she is running 'Fitness Hub Healthcare Center' gym near Islamia College, Hawal.
Mahreen, who was earlier interested in photography says that her encounter with fitness world took place when she was not doing well with her health and had started gaining weight.
"I had just passed my class 12 and went to Delhi where my brother was working, on his continuous insistence I joined a gym to lose weight. That is when I first ever in my life stepped inside a gym centre. My female instructor there was a great professional, she developed my appetite in the fitness field and I lost 30 kg in few months. It was a great change in my life," Mehreen said.
Later that year Mehreen's fitness trainer on seeing her growing interest recommended her to go for a professional course of a gym trainer. She did one-year diploma in fitness management and became a professional gym instructor.
However, when she returned home, Mehreen has no intention to start her own gym given the conservative nature of the society here.
It was only after, she recalls, joining a gym in Srinagar and the 'disappointing experience' there that she got pushed to start her own.
Finding out that most of the female instructors in Srinagar lack basic professional training and the women who are interested in fitness but have no knowledge about the fitness training, do not get value for their money at the gym centres, Mehreen decided to open a gym.
"I also felt that women here hesitate from joining a fitness centre because gyms here are mostly meant for men folk and females are given a few hour window when they can join the gym. That made me think that a female only gym would be a great thing where women can join whenever they want throughout the day," says Mehreen.
But convincing her family abut something, which no one else had done earlier was a big challenge.
"We come from a conservative society, my parents were very reluctant. Though my family is doing business but having no knowledge of such a venture, they were totally against it at first," she says.
Despite receiving a cold shoulder from family initially, passion kept her going and ultimately she succeeded in motivating her parents.
"Seeing that I'm not ready to give up, my family started to support me in different ways although they had reservation about a girl single-handedly starting a business venture which is dominated by males," she says.
After long search, she found a place in near Islamia College, which is barely few hundred meters away from historic Jamia Masjid. From finding the place to setting up the equipment, Mehreen did everything on her own without any support.
Despite building a good setup, Mehreen struggled to find women who were interested in visiting the gym at the beginning. But she remained consistent and didn't lose her heart. Nowadays there are more than 100 women visiting her gym everyday.
Mehreen also faced many challenges at her family level but she didn't give up.
"There was a point when my father was diagnosed with lung cancer, I decided to sell the gym which I had established after so much struggle, I even place and add on OLX, but my love for my job and my family support kept me going. Even when my dad was hospitalized, I did not close the gym. While I was taking care of my father, I managed to be present at the gym as well so that time and money of my clients won't get waste," says Mehreen.
"I did not want to deceive my students so I kept going despite all odds since they had put their faith in me," she said.
Mehreen says that she found it difficult to attract any costumer at first. "I remember for more than a month it was me and my gym equipment," she says. Mehreen today trains more than hundred females at her gym. Her costumers range from doctors, businesswomen to homemakers. She also trains a group of young school going children these days.
Mehreen believes that the unhealthy life style is the basic reason that people are gaining weight and are having other health issues related to over weight. She believes that a daily gym routine should be a part of every female's life and fitness should not be associated with men only.
Mehreen believes that lack of female exclusive gyms are keeping many women away from gym.
"A place like mine, which is owned and run by a female and the instructors are also female, a costumer is comfortable with her body and can express herself very well in the gym," Mehreen says, adding, "Such place gives a sense of security and comfort, as far as the privacy is concerned I have made it my rule to deposit all mobile phones at my office so no one's privacy will be intruded while they are at the gym in a gym attire."
Mehreen says her best reward is a satisfied costumer who has gone through a notable change.
"I have not advertised my gym at that scale but the change that most of the females had gone through here had attracted many more costumers," she said.
She has maintained a dairy, which is full of reviews and happy notes from her costumers, some of them are female doctors who are practicing abroad and had visited her gym during their few month stay in Kashmir.
"When I joined fitness hub my weight was 89 KG and within a span of just 4 months I lost 14 kg, thanks to Fitness Hub and much love to my coach Mehreen", reads one of the review.
There are many reviews about weight gain from some underweight students of Mehreen. The gym is not only about weight loss, Mehreen says she concentrates on overall fitness.
"Females mostly associate gym with weight loss but here I concentrate on overall fitness, from cardio, Zumba to weightlifting, I indulge costumers in everything that suits their fitness training," she said.
Mehreen says that her biggest happiness is the smile and confidence in her students after they go through a transformation.
Raisyta, who has just finished her day's workout shares here experience at the Fitness Hub: "Two months back when I joined the gym I was 97 and today I'm 83, I lost 14 kgs, the friendly atmosphere here works as a booster for newcomers."
Mehreen has made a home like atmosphere at Gym, which she says is the unique feature of her Gym, she says that maintaining strong bond with her students proved very fruitful to her. She maintains a whatsApp Group and Instagram Page where she keeps in touch with her students.
Mehreen today has become inspiration for young girls who want to do something out of the box. She said that after seeing the transformation many girls from even the outskirts are coming to her gym.
"Now I am looking for other places to open another branches of my Fitness Hub so that it will be convenient for girls to reach".
Mehreen says that the resolve to not give up and the support from her parents kept her going.
"In Kashmir people don't take you seriously when you need their support most, but once you do good, people start respecting you," she said.
"I have come across name-calling to prank calls and I faced every social pressure on my own, because when you decide to do something, there should be no going back, that is the mantra, I thank Almighty Allah who gave me strength to keep going," Mehreen said.