By: Haleem Asad
TIMERGARA: The traditional white cap of Dir has become a symbol of Pakhtun men throughout the world but few people outside the district know that these caps are made by women in this conservative society.
Only in Khall, a town famous for caps, more than 90 per cent women contribute to domestic economy by preparing the traditional caps on large scale.
“Nations are recognised by their dress. A man in ‘shalwar kameez’ with a white skull cap on his head is considered a Pakhtun either from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa or Afghanistan,” Advocate Syed Hassan, a resident of the area, told Dawn. He added that white cap had now become an essential component of their dress.
Javed, a cap seller at Timergara, said that he had been in the business for the last 14 years. His shop, having thousands of caps, is visited by hundreds of buyers daily. The caps at his shop are supplied to Karachi, Mardan, Peshawar, Swat, Buner, Kabul, Herat and Qandahar.
“Khall is famous for its caps but caps are also made in Serai area of Upper Dir besides Mayar Jandol and Rabat areas of Lower Dir,” he said.
The trader said that the caps were being sold from Rs60 to Rs450, depending on its material and quality. He said that the caps made in a house at Serai were sold at Rs700.
A market at the entrance of general bus stand of Timergara has been specified only for caps and summer is considered a right season for the business.
Rashid, another shopkeeper, said that they earned Rs10 to Rs50 profit per cap.
“These caps are made by women in Khall. First they used to make caps with hands but now they also use sewing machines,” said Amjad Ali Shah, a local. Every woman in every home at Khall knows the art of cap-making. “Now it has been turned into a profitable business. Women work for hours to prepare a cap. They also do other domestic work and whenever find time, they start making a cap,” he said.
Abdul Wahab, a customer buying cap in a shop at Khall, told Dawn that he liked the cap due to its white colour. According to him Prophet Muhammad also liked white colour.
He said that he belonged to Dir Kohistan and was studying in Peshawar. “I am going to Peshawar where one of my friends asked me to buy a cap for him,” he said.
Haji Gul Zarin, who has been engaged in the business since 1968 and owns two shops at Khall, said that traders from Afghanistan, Peshawar, Rawalpindi,
Dir women turn cap making into profitable business Karachi and Swat had been coming there to buy caps.
Jehan Badshah, another dealer, said that they bought caps from local traders, who visited houses in the area to get the commodity.
Mahmood Syed, an elderly man, said that he had been dealing in caps for the last 35 years. He said in the past women of Khall used to make cap with golden silk embroidery. “Its material was imported from Delhi but it is not available now,” he said.
Saeed Jan, another dealer, said that use of white caps was increased when garment factories started work in Faisalabad. “Our parents and influential people like Nawab of Dir used to wear colourful silky caps, which are now no more used,” he said.
Although cap making has turned into an industry in the district, yet it lacks patronage of government and donors.
“Donor agencies approved projects worth millions of rupees for making of candles, juices, pickles and other low quality production in parts of the country but no one came here to boost this trade,” Imranullah, a local said. He added that keeping in view the popularity of Dir cap, the government and donor agencies should take appropriate steps to develop the industry.
A social activist, Umar Zada, when contacted, said that veiled women at Khall would never let any NGO to work there. “Men are main hurdle in boosting the industry as it is considered only a business of women,” he added.