By Mashkoora Khan
I followed Raja for days from morning till evening to know more about her. Still when she clenches the sharp chopper, I get anxious and scared. Then she chops a piece of boned-meat, the sound of the breaking bones keeps echoing in my head.
Some 8 kilometers away from Budgam district in central Kashmir, is Chitru Danger Pora where a lady runs a meat shop. Kashmir being a man-dominated society scarcely permits women to do work that they think are men-only domains. This female butcher has broken such a stereotype by opening a meat shop in her small village Chitru.
The village is surrounded by hundreds of brick kilns where mostly non-locals labourers come to work during the summer season. After working the whole day they go into the small market of the village and buy meat from Raja’s shop.
46-year-old Raja opened her meat shop some years ago to assist her husband financially. Her husband works in a different meat shop located in a different village of Budgam district. The wife’s shop is near their house and the husband goes outside his village. Both encourage each other to keep working to give better education to their children.
The lady has a simple face, but it turns a bit aggressive while dicing meat into perfect square pieces which are considered a hallmark of a butcher. She is flawless and confident as she serves the customers who were waiting in queue for their turn.
Raja’s shop is small. It has a portable bed which she ordered specially from Delhi on which she sits, a weighing scale, a lanky pointed knife and some large hooks on which she hangs the meat.
On asking her how and why she became a butcher she replied, “we started having financial troubles, as my husband was the only bread-winner in the whole family. One day I asked my husband if he could permit me to open a meat shop. At first he was disturbed and didn’t respond to my question for days. But I kept on asking him. He had no choice but to allow me to open my shop because of increased financial hardship after the continuous 3-year lockdown in Kashmir”.
“My husband slaughtered farm animals at home. I started following him from how to slaughter to how to cut it into smaller pieces. It took me months to understand the whole process of working as a butcher. Operating a meat shop is not as simple a task as it may look like. I had to learn how to deal with customers. This is a business where one should keep eyebrows high and our shoulders should be tall”.
Raja says that “when a woman learns to earn she can bring the world into her own hands instead of wasting time talking about others. I chose to earn. Every woman complains about being pessimistic and being targeted by their husbands who don’t give them money but it’s always up to our shoulders how we can become independent.”
She added that “only one can understand the feeling of having money and being self-sufficient. I not only handle things for myself but for my family as well. When I have money in my pocket I don’t have to ask my husband for money. My husband never asks me where I spend my money nor does he know how I manage my kitchen. I spend hours at a shop. In between I come home to check my kitchen because I have to cook for my family as well. I manage both things at the same time. This is how I make the ends meet. Without the support of my husband all this was not possible. He taught me like a teacher, assisted me, facilitated me, that is how I have become what I am.”
“There are not single women in this field because they recognise this is for men only but we women can do anything if we want to. In the beginning it was difficult. I was timid because every person strolling through my shop used to stop their cars, bikes and stare at me which used to make me feel so uncomfortable.” said Raja.
“My husband and I wake up in the morning and run towards our farm where we pick the best animals for slaughter then he divides it into two parts, one I keep for my shop and the rest he takes in his shop. Sometimes after coming home we talk about who earned more in the day”.
Raja would like her children to also learn this business but for now feels education is most important for them.