12.1 C
Sunday, March 26, 2023

Nasser Hussain hails Ihsanullah as ‘Box Office’ player 

Srinagar: Ihsanullah impressed on his Pakistan debut...

Shadab Khan slammed for ‘clueless’ captaincy against Afghanistan 

Srinagar: Pakistan interim skipper Shadab Khan has...

How Afshan Ashiq inspired a sporting revolution for Kashmir’s girls

LocalHow Afshan Ashiq inspired a sporting revolution for Kashmir's girls

Afshan Ashiq is a rising soccer star, but she is perhaps most famous for throwing a rock.

In April last year, Ms Ashiq was escorting female soccer players to training in her home state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) when she clashed with police.ifshan

“A police officer used abusive language towards us and then slapped one of my players. I couldn’t help it,” Ms Ashiq says of her throwing the rock. “It was very unfortunate”.

Conflict between young people and authorities is common in the streets of Srinagar. More than 70 years after the partition of India and Pakistan, many feel India’s governance of Kashmir is better described as an occupation.

Yet a photo of Ms Ashiq in that moment made her a sensation. Not only was she an elegantly dressed woman — most “stone-pelters”, as they are known in the Indian media, are young men — it later emerged that she was also one of the state’s best soccer players.

A woman in a headscarf throws a rock

PHOTO: A photograph of Afshan Ashiq pelting a stone at police went viral in 2017. (Reuters: Danish Ismail)

Interest in her story exploded. Ms Ashiq was asked to meet J&K chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, the sports academy where she coached doubled its female enrolments, and Bollywood movie about her life was rushed into the works. (Ms Ashiq is very excited: “Athiya Shetty is playing me,” she swoons.)

Today Ms Ashiq is the captain for the J&K state women’s squad and goalie for a Mumbai team in the Indian Women’s League.

She finds the whole stone-pelting affair a bit embarrassing and feels it distracts from her on-field skills.

“It’s all anyone ever wants to talk about,” she says. “It’s the first question they ask in every interview.”

Locals thought goal posts were art
Ms Ashiq is one of a growing number of Kashmiri women taking up sport, despite protests from religious conservatives in the region, including Islamist militants fighting the Indian administration.

Their participation has in part been inspired by a recent government push to boost 52 different sports in the conflicted region, offering a positive outlet for young people who are often engaged in violent street protests.

Girls looking determined
PHOTO: The Kashmiri girls’ beginners’ rugby team in a down moment after training. (ABC News: Matthew Clayfield)
When J&K first installed a set of donated goal posts on the sparse grass of the empty lot that’s become Srinagar’s rugby pitch, locals had no idea what the sticks were for.

“People asked if they were some kind of artwork or had some religious significance,” says Irfan Aziz Botta, J&K’s chief rugby coach.
Irtiqa Ayoub
There are now 4000 young people playing rugby in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, the three regions that comprise J&K, with the girls’ teams in particular drawing a good deal of international attention.

At the unlikely city pitch, Mr Botta is training a beginner’s group, whose members have been playing rugby for less than a week.

Asked what they’re finding most difficult about the sport, the teenagers answer in unison: “Catching the ball!”

They’re already getting the hang of it, though, even if they’re a little reluctant to be aggressive with one another.

“I saw a video online,” one girl says. “They were smashing into each other like cars!”
‘Not normal for a woman’
The young women’s participation in the contact sport isn’t without its critics.

“In the town where I am from, it isn’t normal for a young woman to leave her home to learn how to play rugby,” says Irtiqa Ayoub, 23, who has become one of Kashmiri rugby’s leading lights.

“I faced resistance from my parents, but as I began to have successes, winning some matches and getting some medals, they began to change their minds. Now they support me fully.”
Getting women onto the field was a top priority for the young politician who spearheaded the state’s sports program in 2016.

“We live in a conservative region,” says Waheed Rehman Para, youth president and spokesman of J&K Peoples Democratic Party. “You may even say a radical or oppressive region. Girls cannot walk around in some places unless they are fully covered.”

“To create a space where girls can come and feel confident that they’re in charge of their own bodies was very important to us.”

Mr Para, 29, feels confident that the backlash from some religious groups won’t inhibit the program’s progress.
“We have reached a position now where it’s not easy for them to attack us,” Mr Para says.

“Our network of players, their families and their communities, is far too extensive to be cowed by threats.”Girls with ball

A new battle field
Mr Para was inspired to create the program, modelled on the Australian Sports Commission, by the division and conflict he saw in his state’s young people.

“We came up with the idea of bringing people together on the playing field — a much more inclusive place than the mosque, the temple or the church,” he says.

The 52 sports range from already established favourites like cricket and soccer, to lesser-known options like gymnastics and mountaineering.

J&K has even started an annual winter rugby tournament, where teams from all over India fly north to play in the snow.

Yet some fear this new-found focus on sport unwisely redirects young people’s focus away from the struggle against Indian control.

“I reject that argument,” Mr Para says. “It’s true that, with the boys in particular, we’re trying to channel their natural, youthful energy into something more constructive than street protests, which can lead to prison or worse. But it would be foolish to try to and distract from the conflict, which is a part of everyday life here.”
Playing for the ‘enemy’?
Back on the pitch, the girls are fading.

Ramadan, Islam’s holiest month, is a difficult time of year to get people out to training. Many of the girls aren’t eating, Mr Botta says, and with the sun still high in the afternoon sky, are beginning to flag in anticipation of the fast-breaking iftar meal.

The game of touch that ends the training is refereed by Soliha Yousuf, 23, who is in her second year of playing. The whistle between her teeth, her hijab only a little dusty, she says the sport has changed her life.

“I love it,” she says. “I think it’s my future. I would like very much to play for India.”Afshan Ashiq stands on the ball

On the face of it, Ms Yousuf’s dream of playing for India, like Ms Ashiq’s and Ms Ayoub’s, may seem like a betrayal of Kashmir’s drive for independence. But Mr Botta disagrees.

“There is the conflict and then there’s sport,” he says. “If Kashmir were independent, the girls would want to play for Kashmir. If it were a part of Pakistan, they would want to play for Pakistan. They want to play at the highest level available to them, which is the Indian national team. That’s our hope for them as well.”

Ms Ashiq, the stone-pelting goalie, agrees — though she puts it in a slightly more telling way.

“Becoming India’s goalie at the national level is definitely my dream,” she says.

“It’s also the best way I can represent Kashmir to the rest of India and the world.”


Courtesy: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-06-24/kashmir-girls-sport/9898506

Check out our other content

Check out other tags:

Most Popular Articles