Living in Kashmir is fraught with difficulties, but it is time we become the change we want to see in the Valley,” says Mehvish Mushtaq, a Srinagar resident who knows how to walk the talk. On February 28, the 24-year-old engineer became the first Kashmiri to launch the Android app, Dial Kashmir, which lists over 500 contacts (addresses, email ids and phone numbers) of government departments and private offices and services. The app is divided into two categories -- Essential Services (hospitals, fire brigades, ambulances, newspapers, educational institutions, grievance cells and the municipal corporation) and Commercial Services (hotels, houseboats, Kashmiri products, pharmacies, NGOs, real estate organisations, tour and travel companies and wazas, the traditional Kashmiri cooks). Mushtaq is currently working on adding more categories, such as courier services, journalists, lawyers, doctors, BPOs, construction companies and so on.
“Technology fascinated me since a very young age. I still remember how excited I was when my parents got me a computer when I was in grade seven. I tinkered with the hardware and software until I knew it all in and out,” smiles Mushtaq over the telephone. She adds that her father, a retired Indian Foreign Officer and her mother, a homemaker, were very encouraging of their “tech geek” daughter.
Mushtaq, who studied computer engineering from SSM College of Engineering and Technology at Pattan, Baramullah district in north Kashmir, did an online course in app development in January. “As part of the course, we had to design an app. That’s when I first thought of developing Dial Kashmir.”
Unlike many other Indian cities, locals in Kashmir have no access to directories such as the Yellow Pages or an online portal where they could access information on essential services. “Unfortunately, it is a way of life here -- so often, when I need a contact detail, and if I don’t have access to the specific website, I find myself asking my friends, who in turn get in touch with their friends for help. Can you imagine the time lost? I wanted to design an app which put Kashmir at its residents’ fingertips.”
It took Mushtaq two weeks to design the Android app. “The difficult part, predictably, was gathering data from government agencies and websites. When I was working on compiling the pincodes of various areas in Kashmir, I realised that the government website had them all wrong. So I had to reach out to friends and acquaintances on the social media to help me out. I put them up only a week ago.”
Reactions to Dial Kashmir have taken Mushtaq by surprise. “People here call me the Android girl,” she laughs. “The app has been rated 4.7 out of 5 on Google Play and has seen over 1,000 downloads.” Dial Kashmir’s Facebook page, too, is flooded with locals raving about how the app helped them fill government forms, contact the municipal body to clear a dead carcass found at Jhelum and so on. “I have received many emails from people all across the country telling me that Dial Kashmir has encouraged them to build a similar app for their town or area. I believe someone in Kerala is working on a similar app now,” says Mushtaq.
She is not unaware of how most educated youngsters want to -- rather, have to -- move out of the Valley to build successful careers. “Employment opportunities here are not as good as those outside, but I want to set an example and change that. Kashmir needs its educated youth, and I want to set an example there.” Mushtaq says she wants to be an entrepreneur and work for the Valley. Her next app, she adds, will be something that could boost tourism in the state. “How can we speak of changing Kashmir when we cannot even stay back and work for it? Complaining hasn’t worked for us so far. Someone has to stop waiting for the government to step in and take Kashmir’s development in their own hands – and that could be me.”