The Noorbagh Artisan Cluster, which got registered as a producers-owned company by the Union Ministry of Corporate Affairs is one example among many Self Help Groups that have emerged in the valley in the recent past.

A Self Help Group, commonly abbreviated as SHG, is a small group of people, usually from a local community, who come together to form an informal team and work towards a common goal. The major characteristic of a SHG is the members working with mutual support for each other. Resolution, collective efforts, and entrepreneurship form the bedrock of such groups. SHGs may have varied goals and may serve a myriad of purposes. A powerful tool for development and empowerment, India is seeing a rising number of SHGs. 20 lakh Self Help Groups covering 2.25 core families have been formed since 2014.

SHGs in Kashmir have a vital role to play in the social and economic advancement of people in the valley, even in the far-flung areas. The women strata have particularly benefitted from them by becoming financially independent, ensuring sufficient and regular income. The government actively supports them through financial assistance through loans and subsidies, and training.

In the Kangan area of the Ganderbal district in Kashmir, a Self Help Group called Sonamarg Foods was set by the local women with assistance from the Indian Army. These twenty women got together to make pickles and jams from locally grown produce. The Indian Army, who funded the entire project also trained the women followed up with marketing and branding for the same for the products to be sold all over the country, and even online.

In Kupwara district, Saumya Sadaf, the leader of eight-member women-only SHG owns a dairy farm business and is benefiting from various govt schemes for Self Help Groups while holding important appointments at the cluster-level implementation of the said schemes. In Jammu and Kashmir’s Kathua district, the state agriculture department is teaching the women of a SHG, the process of mushroom cultivation. The SHG was provided with free packages to train themselves with the process as well as imparted further training for value addition through pickling the same.

Arunachalam Muruganantham, the ‘Padman”, not only inspired the movie but, also inspired the women of Ghagwal village of Kashmir to set up a low-cost sanitary napkin production unit with the government’s help. Seven women from this SHG were trained at Muruganantham’s pad-making facility at Coimbatore, while also being provided machines from the same facility. These low-cost products are particularly beneficial to rural women to ensure their hygiene and health.

The importance of these groups was particularly realized during the surge of the COVID-19 pandemic when they produced masks, handwash, and sanitizers to fight the worldwide shortage of the same. In Pulwama, a group of twenty girls, generated employment for themselves while fighting the coronavirus by in-house manufacturing of sanitizers and handwash during the lockdown. In Kupwara, a mask manufacturing SHG was set up by the local women.

The SHGs hold promise for a bright future for the people of Kashmir. It provides gainful employment and produces contributing members of society. Women of Kashmir – a largely untapped reservoir of talent and ray of hope for the state of Kashmir shall be empowered, and hence, Kashmir will be empowered.

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