<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>When 19-year-old Mehak Khursheed enrolled in a baking course, little did she realize that she would be judged for bending gender roles in a male-dominated society. Four months on, Mehak became the first woman to be part of the joint venture between the Indian Army and Pune-based NGO, Aseem Foundation — the All Women Bakery.The bakery manufactures distinctive apple-walnut cookies that are sold under the brand name ‘Kosher Krunch’ in Maharashtra. In Kashmiri, ‘kosher’ means ‘Kashmiri’.Mehak is among the four women who run the all-women bakery in Indian Army’s 12 Brigade headquarters in the Uri sector. The initiative is part of the Army’s Operation Sadbhavana, aimed at winning the hearts and minds of the people in restive Jammu and Kashmir.”I wanted to do something different,” said Mehak. “In our area, baking by women is looked down upon; most girls prefer stitching and tailoring. But I wanted to change this thought and enrolled in the four-month bakery course conducted by Tata Strive through the Indian Army. Later, Aseem Foundation gave us a chance to work in the bakery,” says Mehak.To emancipate women and work towards skill-development of under-privileged youth, who may not be able to complete formal studies in the remote tehsil, the army camp in Uri started Chinar 9 Jawan Club in March 2016. It inaugurated the All Women Bakery in July 2017, and since then, the women have been 30 to 40 kilograms of apple walnut cookies per month. These are sent to Pune to be packaged and then sold in the market.”In 2017, the Army told Aseem Foundation about the activities of the Chinar 9Jawan club and that’s how the All Women Bakery emerged,” says Captain Neha Joshi, army education officer and in-charge of Chinar 9Jawan club. “In July 2017, three students from the bakery course were selected by Aseem Foundation and production of Kosher Krunch cookies started. Aseem Foundation shared the profits with the bakers.”Within a short span of the four months, Kosher Krunch carved a market niche and received Diwali orders. “These biscuits are not sold in the open market; they are sold only through the Aseem Foundation. Before Diwali, we were asked to bake an additional 35 kg for the festive season. It is becoming famous!” says Mehak.Their work has changed the perception about them. “Earlier, we were taunted as Kulcai-walis (kulche-walis) by the boys,” says Yasmin Younis, another baker, “Now their thinking has changed and more girls are coming for admission. They too have realized that women are not far behind.”

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Army takes J&K women for a ‘cake’ walk