Throw a ball, not stones: Govt seeks to win back angry Kashmiri youth through sport | Kashmir Sports Watch  

Throw a ball, not stones: Govt seeks to win back angry Kashmiri youth through sport


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A report accessed by ThePrint shows how the government was successful in reaching 1.6 lakh youth in 2017. The target this year is 2 lakh.

New Delhi: Even as violent protests by young men in the Kashmir Valley make regular headlines, the state government of Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has been using sport to try and provide youngsters a “way out of the current morass”, according to a government report accessed by ThePrint.stne

The idea is to offer them a ball, a racquet, or whatever they choose, before the stones ever tempt them; and to have a robust training framework ready before the militant machinery sucks them in.

The state government has prepared a report, titled ‘Sports as a Source of Unification among the Fragmented Youth’, where it details the initiatives undertaken as part of the programme, including the construction of the state’s first cricket and football academies and the organisation of several training camps.

Also on the horizon are 22 indoor sports stadiums in J&K, one for each district, with funds from the PM’s Development Package (PMDP).

According to the report, while 1.6 lakh youths were targeted in the first year of the policy in 2017, the aim is to reach 2 lakh this year. Gender’s no bar: If you want to play, the government is game.

“As a centre for excellence in football and cricket, the first state football academy and state cricket academy were launched… More than 40 training camps were held in 2017 for football for different age groups,” the report says. “More than 50 cricket coaching camps were held in 2017 under star cricketers, and BCCI and National Institute of Sports (NIS)-certified coaches.”

“In 2017, 89,612 players participated across the (state’s) 22 districts in various sports disciplines,” it said. Around 200 sportspersons imparted special training at the prestigious NIS now serve as community coaches across the Valley.

The report, prepared last month, will be shared and discussed with union home minister Rajnath Singh during his visit to the Valley this week. The Centre, led by the PDP’s ally BJP, is said to be an active participant in the scheme, and has been pitching in with funds.

“The central government is fully supporting the Jammu & Kashmir government in this initiative,” said the Centre’s special representative for Kashmir, Dineshwar Sharma. “The funds are coming from different channels, including the ministry of home affairs and ministry of sports… the plan is to strengthen the thrust,” he added.

The state government has also revamped the Jammu & Kashmir State Sports Council (JKSSC), the executing authority for the sports plan, to streamline effors.

“The total capex of the sports council is Rs 5-6 crore, out of which Rs 3 crore goes to 52 sports disciplines,” JKSSC secretary and PDP youth president Waheed-ur-Rehman Parra told ThePrint.

He, however, added that the Centre needed to do go beyond contributing with infrastructure assistance. “Under the PMDP, Rs 200 crore has been given for infrastructure, but we need to (be able to) utilise sporting talent.”

A way out
The shadow of turbulence has long stalked the youth of Kashmir, where a seemingly deepening problem of alienation is said to be pushing the young towards militancy.

Stone-throwing youngsters have become a fixture on Kashmir’s roads, with their expressions of anger often making the front page under disturbing headlines about persistent clashes.

Civilian deaths in encounters against militants have triggered deep-seated resentment among locals, and families often wake up to social media announcements of their young, some with promising degrees and jobs, joining militancy. Just recently, a beloved sociology professor at the Kashmir University was killed in an encounter two days after he joined the Hizbul Mujahideen.

Efforts have long been underway to resolve the decades-old turmoil in the Valley, which has at its centre a raging separatist movement. A boost to local employment in the form of increased tourism has been one of the chosen methods, as has been the PM’s special scholarship scheme, which offers 5,000 scholarships across different streams for students of J&K each year to pursue studies outside the state.

Sports in the Valley
“Bearing violence for decades, the youths of Kashmir Valley are depressed and need to be taken out of it,” said Sharma. It was after his appointment as special representative that sports became a policy focus for youth outreach.

The efforts already seem to be yielding results. For the first time, a J&K T20 Women’s Cricket Championship was held last year, with the newly formed ‘Chief Minister’s Women’s XI’ football team participating in the Indian Women’s League tournament.

According to the state government report, “Nineteen sportspersons participated at the international level during the year (2017) and 2,000 at the national level. The state… received 87 gold medals, 77 silver medals, 117 bronze medals at the national level.”

“We want more youth in sports,” Sharma told ThePrint, “This is a healthy way of involving the youth and integrating them into the mainstream.”


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