Award-Winning Multimedia Journalist Covering South Asia
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DAL LAKE, INDIAN-ADMINISTERED KASHMIR — Just after dawn, Afroza Jan carries a willow basket full of cow dung on her head. She’s headed toward her floating vegetable garden, which is a 10-minute boat ride away from her home.
“Your father must still be still sleeping,” jokes an elderly male farmer.
The neighbor’s usual greeting makes Jan laugh as she begins spreading the manure on her garden, which is built in the shallows of Dal Lake. Once Jan is done, she joins her mother to clean freshly picked collard greens.
Jan hated farming tasks when she was younger.
“It seemed to be a male activity,” she says.
But things have changed in this traditional corner of Indian-administered Kashmir. These days, more women here earn a living by growing crops, on embankments in the lake or just along the shore.
Now, Jan happily grows kohlrabi. She manages a quarter-acre of land and also ferries vegetables across the lake to a market to sell the produce. Her mother and grandmother work with her. Together, the women earn around 9,000 Indian rupees (about $123) per month.
More than 6,000 families depend on floating gardens in Dal Lake, says Raman Uppal, a representative of the Lakes and Waterways Development Authority.
“The lake has a high biological productivity and serves as a major source of vegetable supply to the Srinagar city, along with fish,” he says.
In earlier years, farming on the lake was work for men and elderly women, says Zareef Ahmed Zareef, a Kashmiri poet who knows the area’s history.
“But now, more and more women farmers are appearing in the market with the produce,” Zareef says.“It has been a liberating force for them, and with this, they are raising their families.”