Youth icons of Kashmir are harbingers of hope
They not only dodged the restrictions but also overcame physical challenges to emerge winners in these troubled times.Updated: Aug 12, 2020 00:32 IST
Kashmir has been under lockdown for a year now, initially due to the restrictions after J&K’s special status was revoked on August 5, 2019, and then due to the coronavirus pandemic since March. Yet, amid the gloom, youngsters from Kashmir offer a silver lining on how to march on with courage and a positive mindset. They not only dodged the restrictions but also overcame physical challenges to emerge winners in these troubled times. On International Youth Day today, HT’s Ashiq Hussain profiles seven such youth icons.
CHAMP IN HER OWN RIGHT
Captain of J&K wheelchair basketball team
Inshah Bashir, 26: Inshah is a pioneer of women wheelchair basketball in Kashmir. Within two years, she has built a team and captains J&K’s national wheelchair basketball team.
An accident in 2009 damaged her spine. She was in Class 11 and since then, she can’t walk or even stand with double plates in her back. She had no idea of wheelchair basketball when she went to a rehabilitation centre for the physically challenged in Srinagar in 2017.
“I saw boys playing on wheelchairs at the centre and decided to join in. It was challenging, a girl playing among the boys but they welcomed me,” she says.
There has been no looking back since. She played at the district level, state level but when she reached the national level, she found there was no J&K team. She joined the Rest of India team for players from different states with no state-level team at the national level. In 2018, she became Delhi team captain and in 2019 represented India in the US during a sports tour.
On her return, she chose to promote the sport in her home state. “The US tour changed my life. Despite being comfortably placed, I decided to resign from the Delhi team and work on building the J&K team,” she says.
When Article 370 was revoked in 2019, the J&K team was in its infancy and Inshah got injured during practice in Mohali. “Medics suggested I stop but if I quit, the team would have been disheartened as we had no substitute player. They would never have been able to overcome the blow. I played despite my injuries and the J&K team moved ahead,” she says with pride.
Playing that match did aggravate her injuries but she says she has no regrets. “I wanted to be a doctor but destiny led me here. I am ready for any challenge,” says the brave youngster from central Kashmir’s Budgam, who is doing MA in social work from Jamia Millia Islamia university in Delhi.
SPORTS CHANGED HER LIFE
Passion for basketball to pre-Olympics
Ishrat Akhtar, 23: A resident of north Kashmir’s Baramulla, Ishrat was the first Kashmiri woman wheelchair basketball player who was selected to play the pre-Olympics wheelchair basketball qualifiers in Thailand from November 26 to December 8, 2019.
This transformation happened three years after a fall from the second storey of her house that left her with spinal cord injuries. She was crippled and depressed.
“Suddenly, I was wheelchair-bound. It was torturous. Slowly, I came to terms with reality and understood something needs to be done. It’s then that I came across basketball players at a rehab centre in Srinagar in 2017,” she recalls.
After a few national tours, Akhtar says she would have missed the opportunity to play the pre-Olympic qualifiers at the international level as she was stuck in Kashmir incommunicado after the revocation of Article 370 last year.
“One day, there was a knock on the door and it was the army’s 52 Rashtriya Rifles and local police who had come searching for my house to inform me about my selection. Our coach in Chennai had approached his friend in the army to locate me,” she says.
She was reluctant to travel amid the restrictions but finally decided to go ahead.
“I left for Chennai the next day and was selected for the international tour to Thailand. Unfortunately, we could not qualify for the Olympics but this is only the beginning,” she says.
CRICKET IS TAKING HIM PLACES
No challenge too big for this fast bowler
Amir Hussain Rather, 20: This left arm fast bowler, who was a part of the Indian cricket team to win the inaugural World Cup for physically challenged in August 2019 in England, played all five matches and took eight wickets.
Rather, who belongs to north Kashmir’s Sopore, was only four months old when four fingers of his right hand had to be amputated after he suffered burns. Despite the disability, he grew up playing cricket in his village.
In 2017, he played for the Under-19 team and was selected for J&K’s physically challenged team that toured Himachal in which he was declared the best bowler for taking 15 wickets in six matches.
In 2018, he was selected for the India-A physically challenged team. A year on, came the selection for the India team. “My coach is so proud that he says I can take on players with no disability,” he says.
Even during the Covid-19 lockdown, he has been taking part in local tournaments such as the Janwara Premier League in July 2020. His fielding has won him accolades, too. “I was awarded for the best catch of the tournament. I ran more than 90 metres and made a six-foot jump to catch the ball with my left hand,” he says.
CRICKET GAVE HIM IDENTITY, FREEDOM
No substitute for hard work, focus
Waseem Iqbal, 27: The opening batsman of India’s physically challenged team was among the top three scorers at the inaugural world cup that India won in England in August 2019. He was the highest individual scorer with 89 runs and was adjudged man of the match in the semi-final against Pakistan.
Trained as an electrical engineer from a polytechnic in Srinagar in 2012, Waseem says, “Cricket has given me an identity, freedom and exposure.”
Waseem fractured his right leg in an accident when he was nine. Multiple medical procedures resulted left him with no ability to bend the leg. Yet, he played cricket and got a call in 2019 for trials before he joined the India team.
“There is no substitute for hard work whether it’s for a so-called ‘abled’ or ‘disabled’ person. There are many distractions for youngsters in Kashmir. They should stay engaged constructively. If you work hard, nobody is going to stop you from success,” he adds.
DREAMS DO COME TRUE
Civil services was her calling, and she made it
Nadia Beig, 23: She is the first woman from north Kashmir’s Kupwara and one of the youngest in J&K to have qualified the Union Public Service Commission exam 2019, the results of which were announced recently.
She cracked the exam in her second attempt and achieved an all-India rank of 350. “It has been a daunting journey. In 2018, I could not qualify even the prelims,” she said.
She did her schooling in Kupwara and went to Jamia Millia Islamia to complete economics honours in 2017.
Joining the civil services was her dream since she was in Class 12. “Nothing is impossible. If you focus on a goal and work hard, you will achieve it. Yes, there were sacrifices to be made. I’m grateful for the prayers of all my well-wishers,” she adds.
BUSINESS WITH VISION HER STRENGTH
Woman entrepreneur with a difference
Mufti Sadia, 29: She owns a fashion showroom in Srinagar which she started when she was 22. Today, she employs 12 people, including young women, who have made 20,000 masks and hundreds of personal protective equipment (PPE) kits during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“In March, when everything shut down, I was concerned about the livelihood of my workers. I noticed there was a shortage of masks and the ones available in the market were of poor quality. So we started making masks on no profit basis. Within days, we started making cotton, three-layered, surgical, and non-woven masks besides PPEs,” she says.
Opening a fashion showroom in a place where parents are obsessed with government jobs was challenging. “I had no business background. My father is in the police and my three sisters in government service. But I can’t work under somebody. I wanted to be independent,” she says.
A math graduate, she did masters in international business before starting her venture in 2014. “I wanted to give a western touch to ethnic wear in Kashmir. Many discouraged me and I was the only woman entrepreneur to open the outlet in a mall. Many would say, she’s just a youngster, what competition can she give,” she recalls.
Gradually, she built her clientele in Kashmir, across the country and abroad. “I’m thinking of going ahead with my plan of opening another outlet. I like to do something different and look forward to providing customised products for people who have a good idea of fashion in Kashmir.”
SETBACKS MAKE US STRONGER
Srinagar’s woman gym trainer is a winner
Mehreen Amin, 25: A resident of Srinagar’s Old City, Mehreen opened a gym training centre in 2016 when she was only 21. Despite the stone pelting, restrictions and lockdown, she can boast of training 1,500 women.
Becoming a gym trainer was accidental for her. It started when her own health deteriorated and she started gaining weight after she went to Delhi to live with her brother in 2012. On her brother’s advice, she joined a women’s gym and lost 20 kg in six months.
“This motivated me to take my instructor’s advice and become a trainer myself. After a year’s training, I got a certificate and returned home,” she said.
Back home, she started gaining weight again and on her father’s insistence decided to join a gym but she couldn’t find a proper facility for women in Srinagar. It was then that she decided to start her own gym.
Her father thought she was too young for the venture but she persisted. “Finally, he agreed and gave me money which he had saved since my childhood for my wedding,” she says.
“When I went to look for the space, people would say that I should bring along an elder to negotiate the rent. These things did not deter me and I succeeded.”
Within three months, the gym started getting regular members and doctors started recommending her centre. She has received a citation from the government.
Covid may be a temporary setback but Mehreen knows we shall emerge stronger.
“Had I not started this venture, I would have been dependent on others. Today, my parents and my husband are proud of me,” she said.