SRINAGAR: Sadaf, 34, popularly known as Smarty G, started making headlines after facing massive setbacks decades ago.

Like many school going children, she had the aim of becoming a doctor. However, at the age of 10, Sadaf was suffering from a fever. They thought it would be a common flu but it wasn’t. As her health issues started to worsen, her parents brought her to a doctor for medical follow-ups.

Her parents thought they would return with full treatment from the doctors, but they were left shell-shocked, after coming to know that Sadaf won’t be able to walk now.

“I was 10 years old when I was informed about my polio. I wanted to become a doctor, but God had a different will about my future strategies,” she recalls.

After coming to know of her medical report, Smarty left schooling once and for all. Her helpless family did everything for her treatment, but all their efforts went in vain. Whenever school kids would pass by her lane, Sadaf couldn’t control her tears, and wiped them away to ensure she was fit and fine. “We know Kashmir has less health infrastructure. So we planned to go to Mumbai for further treatment,” she shares.

In Mumbai, her family was overjoyed at a doctor’s assurance that Sadaf would be able to walk after she underwent minor surgery. They performed surgery on her and instructed her to wear shoes with specific arch support. “I thought I would go to school now. After wearing the specially designed shoe, it was heavy and made it uncomfortable to walk, so I discarded the shoes and left Mumbai with teary eyes, with no hope to recover. In Kashmir I was given a wheelchair, a lifeline for me,” she says.

Then, Sadaf lost her father. Her father’s passing broke her grit and determination, but not her goals. “Many physically challenged people prefer to beg on the streets of Kashmir. They should not lose their will and determination. Create your own dreams and chase them,” she urges.

Back in 2015, she set up her own boutique, but problems with her eyesight made the initiative difficult to keep going. She then decided to set foot in the basketball arena, and over the years, the Jammu and Kashmir Basketball Association has granted her several awards for her outstanding contribution.

Years later, she became a successful entrepreneur by launching her own brand. Everyone knows her now, yet no financial help was offered to her from the officials. She also recalls that people ridiculed, trolled, and discouraged her because she uses a wheelchair. And today, the same people venture out to her factory and look for opportunities for a job.

Hailing from Srinagar’s Sonwar area, Sadaf set up her own spice factory in the Khonmoh area after getting a financial loan from the Khadi and Village Industries Board. She says the people who made fun of her disabilities, and their educated and physically well children, were idle and were squandering their time. These same people are now using Sadaf as an example to others.

Earlier, she would grind red chillies all by herself in her venture and would supply them to different regions of Kashmir. Now her factory makes many different spices while giving tough competition to her competitors in the industrial area of Khonmoh. She says, “Whoever is wheelchair bound or physically challenged, they should come out from their homes and take the disability as challenge, and turn the tables.”

Over the last few years, there has been a massive rise of women entrepreneurs in Kashmir. The official data reveal that there are 20,691 enterprises owned by women registered under the Prime Minister Employment Generation Programme. As the unemployment rate continues to surge in Kashmir, Sadaf is not only making headlines, but creating job opportunities for the unemployed youth here. She says that already more than 10 people are working in her factory, and the number will increase in the coming years.

She got 20 lakh rupees of loan to set up this venture. “Every month I have to take care of the loan finances. There is no help from the government so far. People are depressed here, they want employment. I want to ask them to join Sadaf's factory and earn a livelihood,” she says.

Sadaf Masale is the first spice factory in Kashmir set up by a wheelchair bound woman entrepreneur, Smarty G. As the adulteration of spices remains a cause of concern in different parts of India, Sadaf says that her venture provides organic spices at affordable rates. “If one kilogram of chilli powder is 500 rupees in the market, I can give it to you for 300,” she says.

In the initial days of her venture, people from different walks of life said Smarty G wouldn’t be able to do it. People left no stone unturned in running her down when she started running this factory. Today, people prefer to come here to Sumarty G’s brand and get different spices.

“My teamwork spices manufactured at Sadaf Masale are completely organic with no chemical additives. Though I am physically challenged, my doors are open for everyone who wants to take an entrepreneur’s tips for work opportunities. Beat your disability into success,” Sadaf tells The Citizen.

Hussain Mir is an independent journalist based in Kashmir