What’s the story?
A series of occurrences on a Tuesday afternoon in late April saw one of Jammu & Kashmir’s most promising female football coach, Afshan Ashiq, join the increasing crowd of outraged stone-pelters in the valley.
The protest, that took place in Srinagar’s Tourist Reception Centre ground by the Jhelum, ended in injuries for over 50 students and a few policemen with numbers of students lashing out against police officials. Multiple eyewitnesses recall seeing Ashiq pelt stones at the security forces.
Trained at the acclaimed National Institute of Sports, Patiala; 21-year-old Afshan Ashiq has been well-regarded in the valley for her dedication towards the game. Her contribution to her team in the past year where she served as a coach has also won a lot of admiration for both her players (varying between ages 12 to 22) and as well as herself. It comes as no surprise that she aspires to play for India some day.
Until the day of the event, Ashiq had maintained a very non-violent stance towards the issue, hoping to end the hostility and adopting a neutral and peaceful approach towards resolving the issues in the valley. However, a single act of brutality on a regular afternoon compelled her to put her foot down and resort to pelting stones at the policemen.
The heart of the matter
According to a report from The Scroll, Ashiq was escorting a group of 10 to 16 girls on a regular 15-minute walk from the Government Girls Higher Secondary, Kothi Bagh around mid-afternoon on April 24th, when demonstrations broke out on Exchange road nearby. Unbothered by it since she had come across many such protests in the past, she decided to take an alternative route to the sports complex. Subsequently, the J&K Police started firing teargas shells at the protesters.
Mistaking them to be demonstrators, the policemen stopped the group and started abusing them. This escalated quickly when a cop slapped one of the schoolgirls because she opposed his use of expletives. Their protests were only met with more abuse. Disappointed that the policeman was a fellow Kashmiri Muslim and infuriated at this behaviour, the girls wanted to join the street protests, despite their friends trying to convince them to leave.
Ashiq was left with a difficult choice to make, between standing up for justice or setting an example of weakness for the young girls. According to the report, she told the policeman, “we cannot slap you because you are in uniform, but we will show you what we can do.” After making sure the girls were at a safer distance, she picked up her first stone and flung it at the policemen.
Ashiq continues to maintain a tactful outlook towards the Kashmir issue and is against separatist forces demanding independence for the state. Attributing the development in Kashmir to the Indian government, her approach calls for giving communities the space to resolve the animosity on their own terms and claims that sports can play a significant role in achieving that.
Looking at sports as an effective tool for non-violence, she believes that the steps that have been taken by the government to support sporting opportunities for Kashmiri youth will lead to furthering peaceful resolution in the Valley.
While her dreams for Kashmir are aimed at achieving harmony, her aspirations for herself have remained the same – to represent the country on the football pitch.
There have been many occasions in the past when sports has been able to facilitate positive political change, both in terms of burning bridges between communities/countries and providing youth with a sense of productivity and self-esteem. Despite Ashiq’s partaking in the stone-pelting events, it is refreshing to see a young Kashmiri footballer attempting to use sports as a means of peaceful conflict resolution.