More than a poster girl
Afshan Ashiq is an inspiration for aspiring J&K youth who want to reshape discourse
Young Afshan Ashiq, the Kashmiri girl whose photograph of pelting stones at Jammu & Kashmir policemen became a poster image of sorts and was peddled as the Valley’s visceral disgust against the establishment, has been living down that moment of impulse and doing what she does best, promoting football among women and using sport as a means of conflict resolution. On Tuesday, Afshan, currently the captain and goalkeeper of the J&K football team, met Home Minister Rajnath Singh and sought his intervention in setting up a Sports Authority of India institute in Kashmir to spot talent and train young girls to play football. So impressed was Singh with the girl that he immediately called up J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, asking her to follow up on her request.
Afshan represents an increasing tribe of Kashmiri youth who are breaking the stereotype that all young people are lost to the separatist cause and are rapidly wearing out any semblance of civil society. Fact is that pernicious propaganda is not washing on Afshan and her ilk who want to be a part of India’s demographic dividend and shape their destinies. They certainly do not want to be cannon fodder for separatist elders, who do not think twice about putting them in harm’s way by encouraging them to indulge in acts of violence. It is because of this pointlessness of death and destruction that they are mainstreaming themselves without diluting their identity and negotiating a practical space to defuse tension. Time and again, Afshan has claimed that her act of pelting was a reflex to wrongful action by the police who thought that she and some other girls headed for a practice session were street protesters. Her being a footballer gave her action against misbehaviour a sales pitch which was used in counter propaganda. An aware Afshan says she cannot do anything about the perception but uses the negative scenario to draw attention of young Kashmiri girls to the sport, which she believes has the potential to resolve differences across communities, religion and ideologies. She herself leads a mixed team of Ladakhis, Sikhs and Kashmiris and is gearing up to be a national level player by joining a Mumbai club. She has gone on record that she does not support independence of Kashmir because the kind of development that has been possible in the state in recent years could not be effected by any other regime. Young Kashmiri sportswomen are already changing their relevance. Most Indian wushu champs are from the Valley, with Munazah Gazi winning a gold medal in the under 17 category at the National School games. Not too long ago, eight-year-old girl kickboxer Tajamul Islam won the gold medal at the World Kickboxing Championships. With their medal tally going up, they sure are winning place of pride in our hearts and are showing Kashmir through a different prism, beyond the media-propagated cliche of conflict.
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