ATIQA BANO – The Iron Lady of Kashmir!
By: MAJID KIRMANI & RAFIYA KIRMANI
Atiqa Bano was one of the most famous personalities of Jammu and Kashmir. She was born in 1940 in Sopore and was popularly known as Behanji. She belonged to a very religious family of the town and was the second daughter of Molvi Mohammad Yasin Masoodi, a religious scholar and a luminary. Her Grandfather was Molana Gulam Muhammad Hanfi who had translated Quran in Kashmiri and had written various poetic verses and Islamic books in Kashmiri and Urdu languages.
Having such glorious family history, Atiqa Bano was destined to become a great educationist of Jammu and Kashmir besides being a well known and well appreciated social activist too. She worked particularly for women empowerment and for the children of the society and had great interest in preserving cultural heritage of Kashmir.
She started her career as a teacher and by her hardworking nature and enthusiasm she reached to the post of Director Libraries J&K. During her service tenure she served as District Education Officer Baramulla, In 1994, she became joint director of school education Jammu and Kashmir. She worked at other prestigious positions also. She brought major changes in education scenario of the state.
Atiqa Ji died of cancer on 4 October 2017 in Sopore at the age of 77. The deadly cancer could not deter her struggle, love and affection towards her work and community. She continued to visit her college and other offices till her last breath. She was very much worried about the future of our kids and youth, education and empowerment of women. Despite her deteriorating health she still used to visit her institutions and the museum almost everyday and interacted with the employees regarding the latest developments. Her death is a great loss for Kashmir and she will always be remembered for her contributions towards the community and overall humanity. Her death was widely condoled and people from all the communities and from all over Jammu and Kashmir visited her place on her death.
She was Vice President of Adbee Markaz Kamraz Jammu and Kashmir. She took Adbee Markaz Kamraz to next level by spreading its language movement. She brought a change in this organisation by bringing more women in it, thus empowering women.
She was also chairperson of Bharat Scouts And Guides in Kashmir.
She was awarded many times for her achievements in the field of art and education during her lifetime. She was awarded (posthumous) 51000 cash and a shawl by state government on 26th January 2018.
PERSONAL LIFE :-
As a human being she was the gentlest soul. Very strong, courageous, hardworking and simple woman who could be described as ‘Iron Lady of J&K’ given her undeterred courage and resolve to work for the society.
She lived a very simple life and was always down to earth. Burkha was her all time favourite dress. At home she used to wear Kashmiri traditional dress Kameez Shalwar, pheran and head scarf ( daejh) round the year. Thought the design and fashion of Burkha changed from time to time but she continued the typical traditional Burkha till her last breath. She was very keen in maintaining and preserving the Kashmiri tradition and culture. She always encouraged Kashmiri language and literature. She had a great love and affection towards children. She loved to be among children and was always surrounded by kids.
Her eating habits too were very simple. She preferred vegetables from her kitchen garden where she herself used to work in her spare time. Kashmiri tea (Noon Chai) was her all time favourite and she used to carry it in a thermos when she was out for a field visit.
She was fond of books and literature. She used to travel to different states of India to attend cultural and literaturerelated programs and seminars. She used to organise a yearly Kashmiri and Urdu poetry programme in her B. Ed college. Famous poets from all over the valley used to attend this programme.
She preferred to walk by foot or by tonga for local visits. She was using an ordinary cell phone and she never wore any gold or silver ornaments in her life. She was not fond of such things instead tried to keep her life as simple as possible.
Her staff, subordinates and colleagues remember and recall working with her. As per them she was very employee friendly and always encouraged punctuality and hard work. She herself used to take care of cleanliness of her college and Museum premises. In her spare time she used to do gardening and encouraged students to learn calligraphy and make clay items.
Among her various achievements some are mentioned below:-
During her service she used to visit different parts of Kashmir and at the same time she used to collect material that was related to Kashmiri culture and heritage. After her retirement she spent most of her time in collecting such material and finally established a museum named Meeras Mahal (Heritage Palace)in the year 2002. Encountering the diversity of material culture in Kashmir, she thought of establishing a museum. In her museum one can see historical and cultural artefacts, especially traditional ware and old manuscripts, handwritten Quran’s, Persian, Arabic and Sanskrit manuscripts, historical coins, an entire history of the evolution of the Kashmiri pheran (wedding trousseaus from both the Muslim and the Pandit communities), pottery, and artefacts related to the weaving of Pashmina textile.
Rafiya Kirmani who is a lecturer in Atiqaji’s College has taken an initiative to promote the Meeras Mahal and she is also running a Facebook page namely Meeras Mahal Sopore- Pride Of Kashmir. She was very close to Behanji and says she will promote and complete the tasks left by Behanji along with Muzamil Bashir owner and caretaker of Meeras Mahal.
This was the first ever women exclusive organisation in Kashmir. This organisation was established by Behanji in 1973 for women’s welfare, helping them to achieve financial independence. Women were trained and taught different skills like sewing, handicrafts, weaving and calligraphy, typing and shorthand etc. Some differently abled people including somevisually impaired / disabled persons from Sopore were also trained in her institution which became the source of livelihood for them.
This school was one among the chain of educational institutions founded by Atiqa Ji.
This was one of the prestigious school of Sopore town which provided education to thousands of children for decades. Children from all communities, rich and poor were provided a quality education there.
Lighthouse public School :-
This school was established by Bano in Handwara and this school provided free education to the students from the poor families.This school also created job opportunities in the town and surroundings.
Kashmir Women’s College:-
This college was established in 2001. This college has many buildings including a computer section, library and a girls hostel too. The institute for B. Ed and other technical education like computer etc was opened by Madam Atiqa Ji for the women of north Kashmir. Later women and girls from different parts of India started to come to this institution for different courses like B. Ed, E.Tt. Etc. This institution not only provided education facilities to the women of north Kashmir but also provided job opportunities for hundreds of people in different categories.
Soun Meeras Kashmiri weekly Newspaper:-
This was a Kashmiri weekly newspaper that was published in Kashmir in recent times. It was an initiative to preserve and encourage Kashmiri language, our mother tongue in Kashmir. Unfortunately due to some financial burden this newspaper couldn’t last long. But this initiative of Behanji will never be forgotten and will be written in the history of Kashmir.
Begum Yaseen Library:-
This library has a golden collection of hundreds of books of Kashmiri and Persian literature. Atiqa Ji had personally collected and preserved these books and built a library in Meeras Mahal Sopore. This library is open for the general public.
Above all Atiqa Ji achieved all the success and fame of her own. She single handedly managed all the tasks including setting up the Meeras Mahal and never got any assistance or aid from the government. Her selfless service to the society will never be forgotten and will be eternally respected and remembered. May Allah grant Peace to her noble soul (Ameen).