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Posted at: Oct 22, 2017, 12:43 AM; last updated: Oct 22, 2017, 3:00 AM (IST)

Not out, despite all odds, in restive Kashmir

Rifat Mohidin in Srinagar
The recent T20 regional cricket tournament in Srinagar showed more and more college girls in Kashmir want to be cricketers. But bad security situation and lack of facilities keep them on the back foot
Not out, despite all odds, in restive Kashmir
The T20 team, comprising college girls, from Srinagar. These girls lack coaching and infrastructure facilities. Tribune Photo
On an autumnal afternoon in early October, 20-year-old Sumaiya Jan from south Kashmir’s Tral sub-district — the birthplace of Kashmir new-age militancy — walked into a stadium in Srinagar to play the region’s maiden T20 women’s cricket tournament. She, like others in her team wearing blue, had her head covered with hijab as she spoke about the challenge of being a cricketer. “This is a difficult decision that we make,” she says.

Jan is pursuing master’s in rural development, and is from Gadpora village of Tral, a picturesque cluster of villages in south Kashmir. She says cricket is a passion for her, for which she has had to go against the wishes of her family and society. A member of ‘South Kashmir’ cricket team, she along with her members travelled long distances from different villages of Tral, Pulwama and Anantnag to play the sport they love.

“Our families do educate us, but they don’t allow us to play cricket. It is still considered a taboo for women,” says Jan, who prefers to bat. She is accompanied by a more talkative Suhana Rajput, from Dialgam village of Anantnag. Her family has warned her “time and again”, she says, against playing cricket.

“For me playing cricket is like a constant battle with family, society,” says Suhana. She has played several national tournaments. “There are regular gunfights in our area. My family doesn’t feel good about my choice of sport,” she says. Suhana has taken a job in a private sector to support herself because cricket alone does not make a career choice.

“My family doesn’t know that I have come to participate in the tournament. This is my love for the game that pulls me out here,” she says, expressing disappointment at the callous approach of the government towards talented sportswomen of the Valley.

The almost three-decade-long conflict in Kashmir has taken a toll on sporting activities. No international game has been played in the state for so many years. The sport infrastructure is in a shambles. The situation has been made more dismal by allegations of corruption and fund embezzlements that have frequently surfaced.

In the past one year, the state government has tried to revive interest in sports activities. The T20 women’s tournament was part of the effort. For the 22-year-old Bintul Jihad, an orphan from Tral, cricket means everything. She has had to convince her uncle and aunt, who take care of her upbringing, to take part in the T20 tournament in Srinagar. Thirteen teams participated in the tournament in which nine came from Kashmir, three from Jammu, and one from Ladakh.

“My favorite players are Afridi and Dhoni. I want to become a cricket coach for women in Kashmir. I am very passionate about playing the game, but it’s not possible as the security situation is not conducive,” says Jihad. She has completed her bachelor’s in physical education from Ganderbal College.

Gousia Jan from Koil village of Pulwama — the district which remains shut more often that it does usual business — has to travel to Srinagar for practise. “It is not possible back home,” she says. “The situation in south Kashmir, particularly Pulwama, is very volatile. When I have to participate in any tournament, I travel to Srinagar for practise,” says Gousia, an undergraduate student at Degree College Pulwama.

“There are no facilities to practice for girls in Pulwama. Many girls love to play cricket there, but they can’t do much. We don’t have any academy there, there is no infrastructure,” she says.

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