Dressed in shorts and a jersey, Afshan Ashique, 21, guards one of the goalposts in the Maulana Azad Stadium in Jammu. Repeated scoring attempts by the other girls fail as she grabs the ball on time.
Months ago, a photograph in which Afshan is seen throwing stones at security personnel went viral. Now, she is among eight girls from Kashmir who have braved social prejudices to join the state’s first-ever women football team and are now gearing up for Indian Women’s League that begins in Kolhapur on Saturday.
The state team also has eight girls from Jammu and four from Ladakh region. It has been named the Chief Minister’s XI as its formation coincides with the tenure of the state’s first woman CM Mehbooba Mufti. J&K State Sports Council has roped in eight women football players from Haryana and one each from Bihar and Jharkhand to help the team. These 10 players will be travelling to Kolhapur too, coach Satpal Singh said. Sajid Yousuf, a coach for All India Football Federation, is the team’s technical coach.
The road so far, however, has not been easy for the girls.
“Society talks, not parents. Par unkey barey mein thoda sochna hota hai, apney barey bein sochna hota hai,’’ (One needs to think about oneself instead of the ones talking), said Tanzeela Zaffar, a Class XI student from Srinagar.
Afshan said her father had initially opposed her decision to play football, chiefly because it is a “contact game’’. “I was the only girl in an all boys’ club. Many a times, I heard them saying, ‘what will you play, you are a girl’,” she said. “Log to batein karengey hi. Lekin jab aap achieve karoge woh khud se aa ke bolengey ki tum logo ne bahut acha kiya. Agar hum inke baton mein aa kar chor dengey to humara nuksan hoga, inka nahin. (People will talk, but they will start admiring you once you achieve.”
This team has also provided these girls with a platform to interact with co-players of their age hailing from other regions of the state. “Initially, we hesitated to talk to each other. Now we eat, sleep and play together,’’ Tanzeela said.
Secretary, J&K sports Council, Wahid Rehman Parra said a shift is taking place as far as football in J&K is concerned. Earlier, while coming to the ground, the girls would try to ensure no one notices them, but now their parents openly accompany them, he said.
Afshan said, “I pelted stones after some policemen abused us and slapped one of my teammates without reason.’’ Her message for Kashmir youth today? “Express all your anger and frustration in the field’’.