Making Jammu and Kashmir ‘proud' through sport
- Umran Malik, Tajamul Islam, Jasia Akhtar and Ishrat Akhter are doing that and getting others to follow.
Last month, Abdul Rashid’s small vegetable and fruit shop at Shahidi Chowk in Jammu’s Gujar Nagar was buzzing. But not everybody was a customer. Many had fetched up to congratulate him because his son Umran Malik had got noticed in IPL 2021, bowled the fastest delivery in the competition—152.95kmph against Royal Challengers Bangalore — and had been asked to stay back in UAE as a net bowler for India ahead of the T20 World Cup.
“Umran had made Jammu and Kashmir proud,” said Rashid. “Parvez Rasool has played for India and now everybody wants Umran to do it.” On Tuesday, Malik was chosen for the India A tour of South Africa beginning later this month.
It is not easy to pursue sport in a strife-torn state with a long history of militancy and heavy deployment of security forces. So those who manage to do that—such as Rasool, skiers Gul Mustafa Dev and Nadeem Iqbal, who represented Indian in the Winter Olympics, medal winning shooter Chain Singh and Abdul Majeed, the first from the state to lead the India football team— are celebrated.
Tajamul Islam would know about that. Islam won gold in the under-14 category of the world kickboxing championship. That was on October 22, two days before India opened their campaign in the World T20. Pictures of the 13-year-old from Tarkpora, a small village in Kashmir’s Bandipora district that is 56km from Srinagar, arms spread wide and with the Indian flag flooded the internet in minutes. No one from Kashmir had gone that far but then Islam has been winning medals for India since she was eight.
“Winning a gold for your country is always special. Kickboxing has always fascinated me and I want to excel in the sport with the government’s and federation’s help. Winning a gold medal for India in the Olympics will always be my aim,” said Islam who helps her father run a kick-boxing academy at home with her siblings. Kickboxing has received provisional recognition from the International Olympic Committee this year.
Wheelchair basketball is already included in the Paralympic Games. Ishrat Akhter, a 24-year-old from Baramullah district is the first from the state to play the sport. She is also a motivational speaker. But she wasn’t always wheelchair-bound or a basketball player. The wheelchair happened after she fell from the second floor balcony of her house as security forces barged in during a raid in 2016. “I panicked. I should not have but I didn’t know this would happen either,” said Akhter.
The fall injured Akhter’s spine and she was later taken to a rehabilitation centre to help treat depression. As part of her therapy, she played wheelchair basketball. “The boys told me about a camp that was going to be held for differently-abled basketball players at Srinagar Indoor Stadium,” said Akhter, who represented India at the Asia-Oceania Wheelchair Basketball Championship in Thailand in 2019. With the state under lockdown and the internet suspended, Akhter said she was helped by the security forces to get to Chennai for a preparatory camp earlier that year.
Keep sport separateSo how do they react to reports of some Kashmiris celebrating Pakistan winning in the World T20 and being arrested? “It is unfortunate,” said Rashid. “Politics should be separate from sport. Life is difficult in the valley. And success in art, entertainment or sports is great sources of happiness for us.”
“The time is very good for young Kashmiris to build their careers and that’s what I am doing,” said Akhter. “So many youngsters from the valley are getting into sports to pursue their dreams. My father was in judo and wrestling and could not carry forward due to unrest in the valley. Now, things are looking up. We as kids are dreaming to make India proud and win international tournaments. The people in my village have been so supportive and proud,” said Islam, the Mary Kom and Mike Tyson fan.
Leave sport alone was the leitmotif of conversations with different sportspersons from the state. To that Mehrajuddin Wadoo, who scored the first goal in a 2-0 win for India in the 2005 SAFF Championship final against Bangladesh in Karachi, and cricketer Jasia Akhtar said there is nothing wrong in supporting any team.
“Also, only a few lauded Pakistan’s win over India in the World Cup. MS Dhoni, Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma are idols for many sportspersons in the valley,” said Akhtar, who is hoping to play the Challenger Trophy after smashing a century and a couple of half-centuries for Rajasthan.
“The people in my village want to see me play for India and not Pakistan. Whenever I play they are hooked to the BCCI app for scores.” The 33-year-old Sachin Tendulkar fan is from Braripora village. As a young girl, Akhtar had to go to Punjab to pursue her career because there was no facility in her state and “terrorist activity had made things worse.”
Wadoo, a midfielder who could also play in defence, had a long career at India’s top football clubs including Mohun Bagan, East Bengal, Salgaocar, Pune City, Chennaiyin FC, and Mumbai City. “That goal gave me recognition,” he said of his strike in the 2005 final. “There was a lot of celebration back home when India won.”
Wadoo said football is very popular in the state. Proof of which came in the response to Real Kashmir playing home games in Srinagar in the I-League before the pandemic shoehorned the competition into a one-city bio-bubble. “Things are looking up for football in the valley,” said former wide midfielder Ishfaq Ahmed who works in the state government’s youth and sports department. “Jammu has recently got a new stadium, if Bakshi Stadium in Srinagar also comes up soon more success stories will come from the valley,” he said.