Jammu’s story of girls taking giant leap towards bringing societal change


Pallavi Sareen

Jammu, Oct 19: There was a time when a young Journalist working in one of the oldest dailies of Jammu region was talk of the town for being the only lady who would return home after 12 in the night. Change has swept across the city of temples and young ladies with professional degrees in Journalism have begun dominating the newsrooms.

Confidence with which these young ladies cover events, anti-terror operations, disturbances, police lathicharge and press conferences deserves appreciation and applause. Jammu is changing and changing for the good especially for the young females. Girls have been on the forefront in Kashmir valley and for that they have received national as well as international recognition. And change is not limited to urban centers of Jammu region but it is sweeping across almost all the rural areas.

The struggle of feminism has been a struggle for equality, for being given a congenial environment to grow and succeed in life. Despite all odds; Shikha Pattyal, Kiran Sandotra, Novika Vij, Upasana and Harmanpreet Kour have shown that girls can excel in any field if they put their mind to it. These Jammu girls are breaking stereotypes and changing the meaning of “She’s such a girl.”

Shikha Pattyal, daughter of an Autorickshaw driver, lives in a single room alongwith her family. Power Development Department (PDD) of J&K is yet to accede to his family’s request for electricity connection. She is yet to get fresh water connection from the PHE Deptt.

She looks up at newspaper advertisements of Swachh Bharat campaign but fails to understand why her family is yet to be covered under this Scheme. “We too deserve a washroom and a latrine. But it seems, the scheme does not cover poor families like ours,” Shikha says. Yet she is confident that her dream of becoming an IAS office would come true.

She credits her parents for her success. “I am what I am because of my Parents,” said Shikha. Her father used to be a photographer, then a newspaper-delivery boy and did plenty other odd jobs to support his family, finally ending up driving an auto-rickshaw that he does not own. When Shikha’s brothers gave up their studies and decided to work alongside their father for making the two ends meet, she decided that she would give her all to studies and make her family proud.

Shikha is from Rahya village of Samba district, from where her school was an hour’s ride away but she ensured not to miss classes. She scored 88% in 12th class board exams without attending any tuition classes. In today’s competitive world, she believes that she still has a long way to go but she has her goal set on becoming a civil servant.

“I often hear people complaining of not being able to study especially in hot and humid months of June, July and August due to load shedding and power curtailment. But for me, it has always been like this. No electricity, no fan and no water cooler. Fear of snakes and other poisonous insects entering inside the house would always be there. But I would always say to myself, keep working hard and don’t let aberrations disturb you,” says a confident Samba girl Shikha.

She narrates “My family lives with me in that single room. So, I cannot even complain of disturbance. Our relatives would drop-in at times and this single room was where we all used to sit. Yet I would tell myself, don’t listen to what you should not listen to.”

Kiran Sandotra, a 16-year-old who lost her father when she was barely six years old has an elder sister and a mother to look up to. She lives in Birpur where the road leading up to her house is not motorable and the school she goes to takes her an hour and a half.  She wishes to change thinking of all around her who, according to her believe that girls should be married off once they are 19. With a bathroom with no door and a small dark room she calls home, she says she had no place where she could sit silently to study. A class full of more than 500 students negated school as an option too. Yet, she scored 83% in 12th class Board examination. Kiran dreams of building a home for her mother one day and lessen the burden on the shoulders of her mother. Her sister who is doing a beauty course while wanting to pursue further studies so she can set an example for her little sister.

“Our mom leaves early in the morning and only comes in the evening. I know how much pressure she is under to take care of us and manage the household. Without dad, life did become hard, yet she never let us feel his absence. I know that getting to study is a privilege for me. I wish to become a teacher,” said Kiran Sandotra.

Novika Vij, a Jammu girl who left town right after higher studies to pursue a career in Aviation is now teaching people of Jammu town table manners and etiquettes. A 22-year-old entrepreneur has returned to Jammu from Mumbai after having travelled more than a dozen countries with an idea to grow a grooming school here. Being a small-town girl, she got a cultural shock while dining with people from different countries in various high-end restaurants. Making that momentary embarrassment her strength, she learnt the dining etiquettes from a grooming school in Mumbai, finally deciding to bring something new on Jammu’s table.

“We think we don’t need to learn much about etiquettes but that is until you go for an important business meeting or an interview over lunch and realise that even keeping a napkin a certain way on the table means something. It is like not being privy to a joke everyone else is laughing about. That’s why I thought that the people of Jammu also needed to learn this and I have been very happy about the response I have gotten from people here. People from all ages have come in to attend my session and I feel good about this venture now,” said Novika Vij, the owner of Shine Dining Etiquette.

Upasana weighed 140 kgs when she joined the gym, solely with the thought of losing weight to fit into the standards of beauty the world had pressured her into believing. She now weighs 110 kgs and is one of the best powerlifters in India who represented our country in World Championship Japan. Living in a conservative family surrounded by vegetarians, she had to strive hard to make her meal (chicken and eggs for the protein) acceptable.

Having braved various comments on her body and her passing marriageable age, she has won many state-level powerlifting competitions and looks forward to representing country in Commonwealth games. The twist of fate is that she somehow falls utterly sick right before an important competition and wins despite not being perfectly healthy.

“In one championship, a competitor mixed something in the water and I got loose motions. Yet, I went through the competition, soling my pants yet winning people’s respect. Once, I was in the hospital for five days as I was extremely sick but the initial competition for the World Championship in Japan were going on. So I sneaked out from the hospital, saying I had to change my clothes, went for the powerlifting contest, won my medal and then came back to the hospital. I have defeated men in informal competitions in gym. People who say that women are physically weaker need to change their thinking and that is what I am working hard for,” said Upasana.

There’s nothing more exciting for Harmanpreet Kour than exploring and learning about new things. This 10th class state-topper got 99.4% and she credits it all to her hard work. Spending 12 hours in a day studying is not a hard feat when you have your mind set on being the topper.

Born in a small village in Reasi, where she received her early education, she now lives in Jammu city and plans on becoming an IAS officer as well. A fan of science-fiction movies, she believes that youth is the time for hard-work and one can always enjoy in moments in between, by spending time with family or playing sports.

“I expected to get 97.8%. I just wanted to do better than the last year’s topper but when the result came out, I was very happy. Even now, I am studying already for the next class and I wish to keep on making my family proud,” Harmanpreet said in fluent Punjabi. These names are just few among many that we at Straight Line have come across. Girls all across Jammu & Kashmir are excelling in different fields waiting to make their voices heard. Though this article centers around Jammu, there are many names from the valley who have also proven their worth as young girls of the 21st century.


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