Bandipora woman trains a generation to keep Kani Shawls alive    

Srinagar: In a far-off village of North Kashmir’s Bandipora district, lies a small room that has seated more than 200 girls, and given each of them the skill to own a livelihood for themselves.

In Bandipora’s Gund-i-Kaiser village, lives Shagufta Shafi Dar, a woman who chose to impart the skill and knowledge of shawl weaving to hundreds of women in her locality. Deeply moved by the abysmal state of her household, at the age of 18, she learned the skill of ‘Kani Shawl’ weaving in 2008.

“I was in 11th grade when I took up the shawl-weaving training from my tutor. He belonged to the Srinagar district of Kashmir. He hasn’t just trained me but a generation, I believe,” Dar said.

A Kani shawl is a form of Kashmir shawl that originated in the Kashmir Valley’s Kanihama region. The art of Kani weaving dates back to 3000 BC.

While the word ‘Kani’ in Kashmiri refers to a little wooden rectangular spool, it also refers to the region where these specific artists originate from, Kanihama. It is one of Kashmir’s oldest handicrafts. This craft has existed in the Valley since the time of the Mughals. Pashmina yarn is used to weave the shawls.

Women in the Kani shawl industry have taken the artistry to a different level with their creative and intricate designs. Dar and her students take six months to create one fine Kani shawl. The shawls usually get ready in 4-6 months depending on the design and the skill of the weaver.

“After learning the skill for 6 months and creating a fine piece of art, I shifted the work to my house and set up the workplace in my room. I didn’t know that the whole process would last a decade,” Dar said.

She named her academy ‘Dar Kani Shawl Academy’ and spread the word in her neighbourhood. Soon enough, teenage girls as well as married women started showing up at her academy and dedicatedly sat for six months to learn the skill.

“The women that joined me were determined to move out with a skill and the motivation to earn for themselves,” she exclaimed with pride.

More than 200 women have been tutored by Dar in the span of 14 years (2009-2022) and are now earning a decent living for themselves and their families. “I sleep peacefully each night knowing that I have alleviated struggles of many women and empowered them,” she said.

In a place like Kashmir, where scant space is allowed for women to express, it takes fearlessness and determination to run an institute that empowers women and creates possibilities of a bright career in the shawl weaving industry.

Kashmir, largely being a patriarchal society, doesn’t see many women like Dar who actually gather enough courage to break the shackles of society and the fetters that besiege women.

“Women are no less than men. The moment I realised that our family was struggling, I took charge and committed to ameliorate our living standards,” Dar said.

“I have paid for the education of my siblings. I couldn’t attend university due to the workload at home but made sure to get an education via distance mode,” she said. Dar has a Masters degree in Urdu, a diploma in Computer science and additional skills in Cutting, tailoring, knitting and spinning.

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