SRINAGAR, Jammu and Kashmir - Asiya Qadir recalls that she was taunted not once, not twice, but almost every time that she went to do field work in the two years that she studied geology at Kashmir University. "Is she crazy, what is she doing with the rocks," someone would say, Qadir recalled in a recent conversation with HuffPost India . "Why is it a big deal to be a female geologist in Kashmir?" she said.
SRINAGAR, Jammu and Kashmir - Asiya Qadir recalls that she was taunted not once, not twice, but almost every time that she went to do field work in the two years that she studied geology at Kashmir University.
"Is she crazy, what is she doing with the rocks," someone would say, Qadir recalled in a recent conversation with HuffPost India .
"Why is it a big deal to be a female geologist in Kashmir?" she said. "What we geologists have is the zest to know more and more about the land we live in."
Mountains, fossils, and rocks had always fascinated her, said Qadir, who hails from a village named Ajar in Bandipora district in the Muslim-majority who completed her Kashmir Valley. The 25-year-old, MSc in Geology in March, is currently writing a research paper titled "Tectonics of Kashmir," for the Journal of Asian Earth Science, and is planning to apply for a PhD at Laval University in Quebec, Canada.
"The long working hours, going to adventurous locations won't be a problem there. People there won't tell me that 'girls can't climb mountains and study rocks,'" she said.
On why she won't pursue her doctoral studies in India, Qadir said, "I have not chosen India because over the years we have seen how biased people have become towards Muslims."
Her father, a retired government employee, and mother, a homemaker, have been supportive of her working to become a geologist, but there were more than a few setbacks alongs the way.
Qadir was shocked when a professor at Kashmir University remarked that only poor students took up geology, she recalled. When she was pursuing her Master's degree, Qadir said that there was only one woman teaching at the Geology Department of the University.
"I remember when I went to a limestone industry in Bandipora, local boys assembled and said, 'Why is she playing with the stones? Is she mad?' I laughed and kept doing my work."
Qadir shared many such stories.
"One day, when I was climbing the mountains on a class trip, local people said, 'Isn't she a girl, she is not supposed to climb mountains.'"
Akila Nisar, who was in the same class as Qadir, said that most of the women students were similarly taunted.
On a field visit to Baramulla, Nisar said they were surrounded by a group of young boys and old men, who stood around and stared at them. "Staring and name calling is common when we are on field visits," she said.
On a field trip to Sonamarg, Qadir recalled, "I, along with another woman student, climbed the Thajiwas glacier with the boys and proved that we are no less."
Kashmir's Geology and Mining Department, established in 1960, says that Kashmir has limestone, gypsum, bauxite, magnesite, dolomite, quartzite, borax, coal, lignite, marble, china clay, slate, bauxite, bentonite, sapphire, garnet and tourmaline.
Sarah Qazi, the only woman faculty member at the Geology Department at Kashmir University, said that geology students can try and find a government job in the Geological and Mining Department, the Power Development Corporation, or pursue a career in Academics. "We don't see many girls in industries. They rather prefer to go for academics than work in industries," she said.
In a recent article published in the Kashmir Reader , Qadri about stopping the illegal mining of limestone and dark volcanic rock in the Guryul Ravine in Srinagar by locals, as well as the potential of making the geological site into a world famous GeoPark.
Kashmir being one of the most militarised places in the world, plagued by encounters and curfews, makes it difficult to pursue occupations in which mobility is key. This constant insecurity drives families to discourage women from jobs that keep them outdoor. Qadir said that women who study geology end up sitting for the civil service examinations or become teachers. None of the women she studied with pursued a career in applied geology.
Nisar, her classmate, is considering sitting for the civil service examination. "The field trips have given me enough understanding of what it would be like to be a woman geologist in Kashmir," said Nisar.
Qadir intends to pursue a career in geology.
"I was told by many people to go for civil services, but I never applied," she said. " I can't let the gender bias and societal pressures demoralise me and make me quit. I will continue to climb mountains and study rocks."