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A changemaker who dared to defy!

Dilafroze Qazi

“My biggest achievement has been to get people to embrace, as well as pursue education. I don’t believe in giving alms. To provide education is the best weapon to fight any evil.” Qazi says aptly.
Dilafroze Qazi reflects the harsh realities of conflict and the possibilities of achieving peace. Her story defines the dynamic blend of how peace and reconciliation are possible when one is empathetic and determined for action. As a product of the same system that hindered her work, her battle has started to make fundamental changes to the same system.
As Dilafrose Qazi opens up to share her experiences at her cozy home, decorated stylishly with medals and certificates hanging on the walls, the myriad of booklets, pamphlets and photographs give an indication of her work. The unflinching hope in her eyes and the smile on her face communicated to me all that willingness and ability with which she has been able to manage it all. While flipping the pages of a huge pile of papers on the floor, she opens up, and talks about everything that symbolizes her work.
“What do you want me to speak about?,” she beams. “My every struggle is symbolic of all those women in the war-torn Kashmir who have suffered at any point in time. But the conflict has helped me to listen to my inner voice as well as others.”
Qazi is a woman with a compelling, inspiring story. She is the founder of Srinagar School of Management (SSM) College of Engineering and Polytechnic, Jammu and Kashmir, the first private engineering college in the valley. Born in 1962, Qazi has a double Masters Degree in Education and Economics and completed the LLB programme at the University of Kashmir. From her rented house in Rajbagh area of Srinagar, she started her journey with vocational courses for women in 1988. She then added three year diploma courses in civil engineering to the college, which is today a well-known engineering school in the state, and has expanded to Haryana.
Her work has led to some close shaves with death, with threats from community members, some violent - but those attempts did not shake her determination to serve her community. Even her family was not spared; her father, brothers and husband were kidnapped.
She says that violence against women exists almost in every community, no matter in which form - but for those who stand up to make their painful stories heard, the phenomenon of justice is no longer ignored for them. “The circumstance under which I was working was not less than war. I was asked many a times to close my college but I choose to go on. I have fought my own people, politicians, militants who used to give me death threats. But, I never paid heed to them,” she says.
After her family members were kidnapped, she was told that if she didn’t give up her cause, that anyone who dared to unlock the college doors would be killed. But still she did not give up. The college was relocated to a safer area, in Srinagar, but again, she was threatened, with locals – on behalf of a religious leader – starting to agitate against her work in educating women.
Qazi didn’t let this stop her, “There was no question of surrendering before anyone with vested interest. Instead of entering into a war of words, I opened a free school for the local children and made people, especially those who opposed me, to realise the importance of educating women,” she says.
Qazi continues to set examples for the women, as well as the men in her community, remarkable in the male-dominated and conservative society of Kashmir. Her contributions to empowering the women and children of the Valley inspired her nomination for the 1000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize, alongside 90 other women from India in 2005.
On her journey to help her community she is inspired by all her students. “I have come from a poor family. When people of different sects hear my stories, they are inspired by me. I keep on telling them that money and influence is not everything, but one should work with sincerity and hard work,” she says. “Those who opposed me at one point in time have become my fans today. They recommend my name to open up new vistas in my college and other self-help groups.”
When asked about the future, Qazi’s voice carries hope to the women who have borne the brunt of violence in the last two decades of turmoil, her efforts drawing attention to the women and children most affected. In addition to her work in education, she is also running handicraft centres. “Education can not only foster the personal development for a woman but that of her family, community, country and continues to the global scale. The negative gender-based norms that are all common in the valley, especially in far-flung areas, can gradually be replaced with the positive image of empowered and educated women,” she believes.
Qazi has also helped to establish self help groups for the underprivileged, especially widows and poor women. “Through these groups, women can now stand up in a crowd and question matters that affect the future of the community instead of accepting their traditional role of their confinement to household chores.” Physical and mental health issues are also an issue in the Valley, and Qazi has also been involved in organising medical camps and rehabilitation programs for women.
While explaining her vision for a peaceful Kashmir, she says that education, along with social, legal and other positive practices will give way to gender-equality at the global level. “Every basic human right should be systematically given to women. An empowered woman can tackle the roots of poverty, as when she works, her children are better fed and better educated because she has a better knowledge of where to spend and how much to save,” she says.

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous new media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.

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nasreenamina's picture

My dear Aliya. There is

My dear Aliya. There is something in this woman's words that mean a lot: "the conflict helped me to listen ..." at work as activists, community leaders and citizen journalists, sometimes all what people expect from us is we listen with respect and compassion. Working together towards change starts with fair and sincere attention. We dont always have the answers or resources, sometimes we are not the solution. But listening always helps in these times where no one has time to listen to anyone. Today we have technology to connect, but not always we are willing to open a space to communicate and listen to what others have to say. And every shared path, every link, begins with listening and listening to ourselves. Thanks for this profile, you have written a great story

One's life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation and compassion

Follow me @DivinaFeminista

usha kc's picture

she is change maker indeed.

she is change maker indeed. Qazi 's story is inspiring dear thank you for it.

Rachael Maddock-Hughes's picture

Fabulous

Wonderful story, thank you so much for sharing. It is truly encouraging to hear stories of women like Qazi who continue to struggle despite all the hardships. What is most convincing I think, is when she says that the people who used to oppose her are now her supporters. That speaks so much to the strength of her vision!

Great job!

Kind regards,

Rachael

"In every human heart there are a few passions that last a lifetime. They're with us from the moment we're born, and nothing can dilute their intensity." Rob Brezny

Okeny-Lucia's picture

Great Profile!

Qiza exudes a very powerful symbol of community participation.Patriotism and undying cause to humanity.Thank you

Lucia Buyanza
Reproductive Health

Stella Paul's picture

May her community grow!

We need more such women in India, in Kashmir and all of South Asia my sister Aliah. Women in the minority community, especially the Muslim community are often victims of the dual evil of poverty and illiteracy. They need to be taken to schools and to choose the path of life that can take them to light and happiness. I thank you for bringing this timely story with a very strong message. Love

Stella Paul
Twitter: @stellasglobe

Karoline's picture

Beautiful!

Wonderful, Aliya - you've managed to capture the strength of this woman so well, and her story is inspiring. Thank you for sharing!

BlueSky's picture

The Insanity Behind the War

I was struck by Qazi's comment: "The circumstance under which I was working was not less than war." I know it is true, and yet it just leaves me dumbstruck to consider the basis of the Declaration against her and the school. This story does a good job of highlighting the absolute idiocy behind all opposition to equal rights for woman.

Thank you Aliya for sharing this story. Your subtle portrayal of the insanity behind the opposition has stirred me deeply. I appreciate so much Qazi's fearless determination and laud her victory!

Virginia W's picture

Taking Action with Purpose

Aliya, you captured the determined spirit of a true change maker. thanks for sharing.

Virginia Williams, MBA, PCC | Executive Coach and Learning Facilitator

carol adams's picture

Thank you

Dear Aliya,
You have written a very powerful piece. Through your skillful writing, you reveal Qasi’s strength, courage and persistence as well as your own.

I learn from both of you.

Best to you,
Carol

Carol Adams

MaDube's picture

Qazi is doing wonderful work

Qazi is doing wonderful work and I caught onto something that she said which is really important especially for us who are working on human rights issues "money and influence is not everything, but one should work with sincerity and hard work." That is the true way of representing the concerns of the communities on whose behalf we do our work. Thanks Aliya for this great profile.

mrbeckbeck's picture

Great work

Aliya, thank you for this. Your wonderful writing skills bring Qazi to life on my computer screen. As I read about her courage and dedication to education, peace and human rights for women, I am amazed and inspired by her. She is truly a change-maker working in the face of all odds. My heart goes out to her, and I hope that one day soon her dreams will come to reality.

Warm wishes to you my dear,
Scott

Scott Beck
World Pulse Online Community Manager

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