Col Satish Singh Lalotra
‘Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls’—Joseph Campbell.
Hope and faith are two words that exist in the lexicon of humans from times immemorial. At first glance, the relationship might seem obvious. People that have faith, have hope .People that have hope, have faith. Seemingly, a person cannot have one without the other. Hope is something that you possess in the present moment. It reflects a desired intention. Hope is the anticipated fulfillment of that intention; it deals with future state of affairs. Towards these fulfilling of intentions of the masses, NRLM (National rural livelihoods mission) in the UT of Jammu and Kashmir is being run under the aegis of ‘UMEED’ with the stated objectives of reaching out to 66% of rural population across the erstwhile 125 blocks as also link them to sustainable livelihoods opportunities and nurture them till they come out of poverty and enjoy a decent quality of life. The erstwhile state of Jammu &Kashmir which has been in the throes of raging militancy off and on for more than three decades in a straight row had seen the women and children the worst sufferers of this scourge. With dwindling chances of employment in the frontline and erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir for women, it became a herculean task more so when dealt with a double whammy of terrorism exported from across the border.
In stepped ‘Naari ki Pehchaan’ ,a cluster level federation formed by 1500(one thousand five hundred) women members of a ‘Self-help group'(SHG), a sole initiative undertaken by the DDC(District development commissioner) of Riasi, Babila Rakwal in coordination with the Tourism Department and the ‘Rural livelihood mission’ as a platform to harness the culinary skills of home makers and enable them to earn a livelihood out of their kitchens . A small initiative at a place called as ‘Duggardhani’ in the Kheral panchayat of Pouni block of district Riasi , has sounded the bugle of self-emancipation , self-reliance and the like all rolled into one for these hardy rural women who though aware of their USP were looking for a platform just like this all along. Fully aware of the strong points of these rural women that were laced with pragmatism, hard work & an uncanny knack of turning their culinary skills into lip smacking experiences; the above mentioned qualities were cross-linked with the innate habit of these women of indulging into traditional handicrafts (chabhari-binna or grass craft) ,handlooms and the region’s value added agriculture and horticulture products such as tikki masala, pickles, chutneys ,jams and papads. In a way a typical ‘Village haat’ culture has been introduced in the UT of Jammu and Kashmir that never was exposed to such a razzmatazz of activities as has been the wont in other states and UTs of the country.
A little about the extraordinary activities in this venture would do well to readers to help understand the amount of thought process, labour, exhortations to the women of rural background went in so as to make them rise and shine as per their wont. The majority of women have brought with them experience of making age old Dogra recipes /cuisines to include Makki Ki roti, Saag, Quer ,Khurmure, special Dogra dal, mixed rice with lassi and kheer etc . This is the only USP of Duggardhani that sets it apart from hordes of commercial restaurants, hotels, inns which too make these items but tinged with a sense of home cooked food prepared to the liking of the patrons. As if this was not enough ‘Quality control’ and affordability were two other tangibles that were added to the recipes to make the patrons lick their fingers with glee while making the cash registers ring too. Every food item prepared is fresh with minimal of food wastage. Each woman brings with her area of specialization to the table of the patrons that are left wondering the talent that lie packed in these rural women. These women are clever, calculative, know their kitchen as the back of their hands and are great in damage control too. By its inauguration on 16th May 2023 ,Duggardhani has made the cash registers ring loud and clear within one month span amounting to Rs 2,00000 / and still counting. The business model on which this venture took off rested on the following –
* Road side proximity.
* Huge tourist influx to Shiv khori
* Eye catching traditional and rural revamped outlook
* Traditional way of cooking and eating
* Presence of a huge pool of talented women folk waiting in their wings
* A sizable number of rural and urban clientele
Women SHG members from cluster level federations (UMEED) have taken their talents outside of the confines of their homes and converted ‘Duggardhani’ into a viable and profitable venture with a professional option to exercise. The SHG members long outstanding request for a market that lends to traditional handcrafts as described above too has been met. Not resting on its laurels , the venture has now carved a niche for itself by aligning with the famous tourist circuit in the region that finds favour with most of the Indians i.e the Katra Vaishno Devi &Shiv khori yatras since most of the pilgrims are eager to partake in the local cuisine that is now the forte of this village haat. That way a holistic picture of Jammu region is projected to a new comer who is fed only on ‘Kashmir centric’ tourism packages. That way JKLRM (Jammu & Kashmir rural livelihood mission) has come as a messiah for ameliorating the cause of these poor rural women folk by giving them a new lease of life in terms of economic and self-emancipation, recognition from a society which used to brush them away without any second thought and a certain amount of control over their lives and fate as deemed fit by them.
The prime objective of establishing ‘Duggardhani’ as stated above was to break free the rural women folk from the shackles of daily drudgery of their lives and give them the chance to reengineer their fates as per their capabilities that were hidden hitherto. From time to time surveys across cultural backgrounds and gender reveal how women are bearing the burden of unpaid labour and go about as the typical ‘Unsung heroes’ in the hinterland of our country. In a way this initiative by the Riasi administration has borne the flag of being the ‘Standard bearer ‘of women’s aspirational needs that no longer can be brushed aside with a sense of disdain. As the famous American writer Joseph Campbell has told—-‘Follow your bliss and the universe will open its doors for you where there were only walls’. Duggardhani has surely shown the way forward to the rural women of Riasi the path to bliss where the doors are now flung open to them to reinvent themselves for a better tomorrow.
(The writer is a retired army officer)
Col Satish Singh Lalotra