With sweat dripping down their foreheads and decades of experience in their pocket, they never vacillate in carrying out their task in the bustling Hazratbal market. These working women and their dedicated workforce put up a routine slog to sustain their families like real life heroes.
Sprinkling water on squirming fishes in her basket, Rafiqa Banu looks vacantly at passersby, her potential customers, in the bustling Hazratbal market with a meditative face.
Before the usual marketplace commotion starts with the daybreak, she walks down here with a fish basket on her head and starts her day with a strapping consistency.
Her tryst begins by convincing her customers about the quality of her product. Seen to be struggling with her trade, she carries on the business of her forefathers with self-esteem.
From the past 40 years, Rafiqa has been regular seller in interiors of the traditional Hazratbal market, which’s a hub of women marketers, gifted with real life entrepreneurship skills.
“I’m thankful to Allah that I’m able to work and help my family,” Rafiqa says, wearing the typical attitude of Kashmiri fisherwomen. “Not everyone can sell fishes. It’s an art.”
Working on streets for their families makes Rafiqa’s tribe the real life super heroes.
With errands up their sleeves, they say, they’re out there to brave the brazenness of the streets and yet end their day quite contended.
“It’s a tiring task but we never stop believing in ourselves,” Rafiqa says, as she persistently invites passersby to buy her basket stock. “We get up every morning to provide for our family. This is what keeps us going.”
Sitting under a ragged umbrella supported by a stand and a rock, Zoona Begum’s hands are soaked in the local street food—Masale. She seems engrossed in the street bustle for the want of customers.
Her regular street venture, like Rafiqa, has to do with her family.
Her husband has been battling a disease from past 10 years and is unable earn for the family—thus making Zoona Begum a default matriarch of her family.
“I’ve been selling Masale for last 20 years now,” she says. “My longstanding association with this marketplace makes it my family. The market regulars understand that this is like any other business and act like my guards.”
Treating herself as a warrior, Zoona Begum says that she’ll continue venture on streets till her last breath, so that her family “could live with dignity”.
The market houses many such commoners—especially the women selling their stock—who keep struggling for their family’s survival. Among them is 85-year-old grandmother, selling pots from past 60 odd years.
“My husband died when I was young and since then I’m working with my son,” she says.
Not being able to divulge her life details because of her old age, she makes it brief, that despite ups and downs, she “never gave up on life”.
Nearby, another working woman is busy earning her day. Surrounded with contented airs, Meema is decorating her space with rich veggies.
This vegetable-seller of Hazratbal market has been a working woman for the past 45 years.
“This is our family business,” Meema says, while attending to her customers. “I can do this job with my eyes closed. This is what I do for a living and that’s how I sustain my family.”
It was her dogged resilience, she says, which helped her sustain in a trade dominated by men.
“I’m proud that without studying I’m able to do good for my family,” she says. “I’ve had my share of sorrows in life, but I never let them impair my work.”
With this positive outlook, these women never seem to complain about their hard routines on street — be it under sun, snow or shower.
And with time, they’ve become street-hardened merchants with market insights. Many see them as a blessing and an epitome of skill, slog and survival spirit of Kashmir.
As the skies take on shades of orange, it marks the end of the day for these women. Wrapping up their day’s work, they prepare themselves for the next day.
“We’re blessed that we’ve some place to sit and earn,” Rafiqa, the effable fisherwoman, says. “We never have to ask for money from someone. We couldn’t be more grateful.”
All images have been produced by the Author.
Like this story? Producing quality journalism costs. Make a Donation & help keep our work going.