One of the realities of Kashmir today is the movement of thousands of Kashmiri youth to other parts of the country in order to seek better career opportunities for themselves, especially in the field of information technology. One young woman, Mehvish Mushtaq, 23, is determined to buck this trend. Instead, the one ambition she nurses is to create opportunities for young people at home, so that they could win laurels for themselves and for Kashmir.
But who is Mehvish? She happens to be the first Kashmiri woman to develop an android application that goes by the name ‘Dial Kashmir’. A Srinagar girl, Mehvish did not receive an education in a fancy elite college or university. After completing her schooling from Presentation Convent School, she sat for the All India Engineering Entrance Examination (AIEEE) examination. Disappointment followed. Having failing to clear the AIEEE, Mehvish joined the SSM College of Engineering and Technology at Pattan, in Baramulla district of north Kashmir.
Mehvish Mushtaq’s ‘Dial Kashmir’ phone app is a one-stop source for information on healthcare, education, transport, police and many other sectors. (Credit: Yawar Kabli\WFS)
“I was always interested in technology and fortunately my family supported me in my decision to go into this field. In fact, no one in the family has ever forced me to do anything,” says Mehvish, whose father has served as officer with the Indian Foreign Service. Her mother is a homemaker while her brother is pursuing his education in Delhi.
Mehvish completed her three-year Bachelor’s course in 2012 and was wondering on what to do next when life took an unexpected turn. She puts it this way, “I was generally going through my Facebook profile, when an advertisement popped out and caught my attention. It seemed interesting so I clicked on it.”
That was how Mehvish joined an online course for developing applications. Always a person who wanted to get deeper into subjects that interested her, she found herself immersed in the world of application development. “The course itself was not long – it was completed in one month. But during that course, we were given a project to develop an application,” Mehvish explains.
The idea of ‘Dial Kashmir’ struck her at that juncture. Kashmir had no yellow pages or dedicated websites with reliable information unlike other regions of India. This meant that people faced a lot of problems trying to track down contact numbers of different departments and services. Mehvish, knowing well that there were many users of android mobile phones in the Valley, felt that if she came up with the right app she could be addressing an urgent need.
After two weeks of hard work, without any assistance or help, ‘Dial Kashmir’ became a reality for Mehvish. It provides users detailed information such as addresses, phone numbers and email ids of various essential services and relevant government departments in Kashmir. It is a one-stop source for information on healthcare, education, transport, the police and so many other sectors and meant that no one now needs to spend time and tedious effort surfing through internet pages, official websites and directories. Her application has witnessed an average rating of 4.7 out of 5, with a thousand plus downloads on Google Play.
It disturbs Mehvish to note the absence of proper educational and career opportunities for infotech aspirants, which in turn forces thousands of young people to leave home every year. “The absence of relevant colleges and universities is a big issue in Kashmir. Our youth are not able to develop their potential here,” she says.
Mehvish has experienced for herself the innumerable hurdles that prevent Kashmir’s dynamic young innovators from realising their potential. But she would like them not to lose hope and keep dreaming big. Mehvish’s particular dream is to set up her own software company – which could provide employment opportunities for many and contribute to the world of infotech. Says she, “There is no point in just complaining that there are no opportunities. While that is certainly the case, I believe we have to find ways to create opportunities – not just wait endlessly for the government to act. It’s time we stood up and got noticed.”
Mehvish is working to add more contacts to the application and upgrade it further. She is also contemplating on developing a dictionary for the Kashmiri language. Says the young woman firmly, “I want to contribute to my motherland by staying right here. I do not want to move out of Kashmir, either to study or to work.”