Woman with a Mission : Shabnam Hashmi
Shabnam Hashmi’s life has come a full circle. She started working 40 years ago in a Basti teaching girls and women who had never been to school , after 8 years she moved on to doing work on many other issues like communal harmony , adoption and mental illness. Her passion has always been working at the grassroots with marginalised women.
She has initiated now Anhad Community Centre (ACC) in a small village called Khumriyal in Kupwara district of Kashmir. An initiative which started just three months ago has already become a very vibrant space.
ACC has a well-equipped library which is already attracting a lot of young students appearing for competitive examinations. Apart from latest books for various competitive exams the library has good literature, encyclopaedias, children’s books , fiction and a lot more . ACC is running computer classes and there are already three batches and close to 75 students. Women are engaged in sweater knitting on machines and doing traditional crewel embroidery. Along with this a full time local young woman is organising meetings in surrounding villages to make women aware of their rights with the aim to build an atmosphere to stop violence against women.
ACC was set up totally by contributions from friends and so far it is running on personal donations. Shabnam Hashmi says that while we can hopefully keep on running on personal donations but there is a need to expand this work especially in the field of gender sensitisation and also expanding livelihood opportunities for women that can happen if institutional grants are available.
Shabnam Hashmi was drawn to Kashmir in 2005 after the earthquake. With young student volunteers and truck load of relief material she reached Tangdar in Kupwara. She had asked a friend in Srinagar where to go with the relief material. Her friend told her that everyone is going to Baramula but it is very difficult to go to Tangdar as one has to cross 10,000 feet high Sadhna peak and roads are broken due to the earthquake. That was enough to take the challenge. It was a very difficult terrain but they finally reached to find that the place was devastated. At that time except for the army no one else had reached there. One trip led to another, the hospitality of Kashmiris overwhelmed Shabnam and young volunteers.
Shabnam feels that while work is required everywhere but working with the most marginalised women gives her the will to keep on fighting even at 65 years. She feels that due to the difficult conditions in Kashmir there are many issues faced by women from access to quality education, employment, health including mental health issues.
She wants to start an all women crafts bazar in Khumriyal if there are any takers to support the venture.
ACC has a small kitchen with a makeshift bed. Every-time she comes to Khumriyal she lives at the centre. During the December visit the temperature had dipped to -6* c but she spent the night in the kitchen. There are many offers from friends to stay in their homes but she insists when I am on work I always stay in the office. Her colleagues inform us that she works till 2am as a routine which is possible only in the office.
But she is not only a workaholic, she likes to travel when the work is under control, cook, sing at the top of her voice and go for long walks.
Shabnam Hashmi says that the disparity real pains her. She says if those with means were more sensitive we could have helped a lot more people.
People like her who have devoted their lives in bringing social change are an inspiration for the younger generation. She says I do-not want fame or publicity but I do want people to support good causes.