SRINAGAR: Even in times of conflict, women empowerment is taking place in strife-torn Kashmir and girls are breaking stereotypes and venturing into fields that were the sole domain of men. Mehvish Mehraj Zargar, a 25-year-old law graduate from Srinagar, established the ME’n’U Café in uptown Bemina, the first in the summer capital to be run by a woman.
Mehvish told The Sunday Standard that although she studied law she wanted to be an entrepreneur. “I am a foodie and every time I would go to a restaurant I would think about running my own café,” she said.
Asked about family support, Mehvish confided, “Initially my family was reluctant. They told me to do something in my own field. However, when they realised that I was serious, they supported me wholeheartedly.”
In February this year, Mehvish started the café and today she is doing a roaring business. It’s a big leap for a young woman who lost her father to cancer in 1999 when she was just six years old. “The hardships faced by our mother after my father’s death made me realise that a woman should always be financially independent in order to be able to face uncertainties of life better. Opening my café helped gain this independence,” Mehvish said.
Mehvish is happy with the response of the people, given the conservative and male-dominate society of the state. “I’ve got positive feedback from the young and the elderly alike. However, there were few, who criticized me for opening the café,” she said. The café serves pizza, Chinese and continental cuisine. “We are planning to introduce varieties that are not being served in the Valley, like a few choices of burgers that are not available in Srinagar,” Mehvish said.
With business booming, Mehvish started another café in Munawarabad in downtown Srinagar in July.
Unlike other eateries, the chefs in Mehvish’s café are locals who have been trained by her. The young entrepreneur is providing employment to seven people, but soon, she intends to start a chain of cafes across Kashmir to help unemployed youth earn a decent livelihood.
Mehvish hopes her success will inspire more women to break the glass ceiling and venture into male-dominated fields.