No Curtains for the Burqa-Clad Superwoman

Ameena faced opposition from business, bureaucratic community not prepared to accept a burqa-clad young woman as an entrepreneur.

Published: 22nd May 2016 03:33 AM  |   Last Updated: 22nd May 2016 03:33 AM   |  A+A-

No Curtains

Seventeen years old and married is not a status conducive to encouraging entrepreneurial spirit. But for the proprietrix of Pondicherry-based PJP Industries, it was the beginning of a career that first saw rejection, then disdain. And finally, ascension to the helm of her own industrial venture.

At first glance, Ameena looks nothing like the modern, suave businesswomen. Quiet reserve and understatement tinge every word she consents to verbalise. Her story, however, is anything but. Married off at the age of 17, Ameena and her husband lost no time in starting a family, with three children born in quick succession. But to be the quintessential housewife was not something that appealed to her.

No Curtains.jpg“I did not want to get married. But my father convinced me with a promise. ‘Get married and I will support you in whatever you do’,” she says. Ameena lost no time in leveraging that promise. By 1991, less than six years after her marriage, she forced herself into the day to day running of her father’s small pulverising business.

“Even the workers at my fathers plant asked what someone like me can do. A closeted child and, God forbid, a woman,” she says of her first few months at her father’s plant. But a firm conviction to ignore disdain began to pay off. Officials who had refused to deal with her, began recognising her on sight. Workers began to come to her for solutions.

“But the icing on the cake were tangible results. With more and more responsibility given to me, turnovers rose and continued rising,” she smiles.  By 1997, her husband had thrown in his support behind her. She told her father she was beginning her own saw dust business. She began with what capital she had on hand - `17 lakh. Loans did not appeal. “I wanted to scale up slowly,” she says.

And scale up she did. 12 to 14 hour long days, including time spent with her children, saw her secure a partnership with the Godrej group. In 2010, she began another venture with her her daughter as partner - Firdaus Hawiyya Industries. “By this time, no one was asking me what I was doing in the field. There were no questions about what a burqa clad woman could do,” she smiles.

Ameena has not looked back for a very long time. Her newest venture - Khadirs Consumer Products, manufactures organic hair oil and other niche products. For aspiring women entrepreneurs, she has only one thing to say. “Take criticism but do not tolerate disdain.”

It is important that you do not succumb to negativity. Do not listen to anything negative. Take criticism but do not tolerate disdain

— A Ameena, Proprietrix, PJP Industries


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