In Srinagar, Renowned Floating Gardens Have Been Men’s Domain – Until Now
Dal Lake is known as a jewel of Indian-administered Kashmir. Now, women, who are increasingly cultivating produce on the lake, say it’s key to their livelihoods.View Team
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.”
Vendors sell fresh produce from 5 to 8 every morning at Dal Lake, a picturesque body of water in Indian-administered Kashmir, known for its floating gardens. Farmers cultivate collard greens, carrots, radishes, turnips and other vegetables in plots built on embankments in the water or in soil that floats on beds of flora.
Floating gardens are maintained all over Dal Lake. Farmers maneuver through their plots on boats and carry their harvest to the lake’s market area.
Daulat Watloo, 55, looks after her son’s children as he and her daughter-in-law cultivate crops on a floating plot in Dal Lake. Insha Zehra, 7, stands to the left while Watloo dresses Farmaan Ali, 6. “There were times in the 2014 floods when we were running in debt,” Watloo says, referring to major flooding that destroyed floating gardens as well as homes and infrastructure. “But we worked hard and not only managed our own land but also helped our neighbors.”
Watloo tends to a goat near her family’s home in Srinagar, a key city in Indian-administered Kashmir.
Shabroza Akhter, 30, shown here, says she started farming at Dal Lake to relieve her family’s chronic money problems. Farming was once considered a man’s job, but more women are tending plots on the lake.
Hameeda Watloo, 49, holds a bunch of collard greens that she grew, without the aid of pesticides or chemical fertilizers, on her plot on Dal Lake. She says she’s saving money for her eldest daughter’s wedding.
Begum says she loves to spend her days in a boat among the garden plots on Dal Lake. She earns about $60 each month by selling the vegetables she grows. “The growing dominance of women in the agricultural sector as cultivators and laborers has made our women at home quite empowered,” she says.
Lotus plants fill sections of Dal Lake and attract tourists. Here, Begum navigates her boat through the water.
Jan, whose hands are pictured here, says she manages her family’s garden plots, along with her mother and grandmother, and she accompanies her father to the lake’s market area to sell what the family grows.
Dilshada Moti, 28, cleans collard greens while her daughter, Zainab Jan, 4, watches. Moti dreams of sending her daughter to private school with the money she earns farming on Dal Lake. “I am illiterate, but I work hard with my husband in the field to save money for her better education,” Moti says.
Afroza Watloo, 24, manages household work and also embroiders curtains to sell. Her earnings are invested in the family’s farming business on Dal Lake, she says.
Dal Lake provides food for animals, too. Jan collects lotus leaves, which are fed to her family’s animals.
Aliya Bashir, GPJ, translated interviews from Kashmiri and Urdu.