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Women’s hockey in conflict-torn Kashmir

Chasing her dream of becoming a hockey player, Inayat Farooq from central Kashmir’s Budgam district has had to battle all the odds in Indian society since deciding to play at this beloved sport.

For this 20-year-old, hockey is not only about maneuvering a perforated-cork-ball into the opponent’s goal-post using a long stick with a curved end, but has taught her important life lessons. Inayat has applied experience learned on the field to her life. “Before playing hockey I did not knew what responsibility and togetherness meant,” she told DW in the presence of her teammates, as she sat cross-legged in a public park in Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian-administrated Kashmir. “I now believe that respossibility means one has to deal with different things according to situations in order to avoid penalties, else your opponent will have the advantage of leaving you behind.”

At first, many people, including family members, have criticized her for attending practice sessions at school or in local stadiums. Inayat ignored the taunts and continued to polish her skills. Within two years she was playing in Jammu and Kashmir’s senior hockey team. “I was smothered with epithets – on roads, buses and even at home after people used to see hockey stick in my hand,” she recalls. “Later I kept the hockey stick at my college after the practice session was over.”

Young women who continue to play sport after school are vulnerable to strong criticism in heavily religious societies such as Kashmir. “People are of an opinion that whenever girls (sportswomen) move outside they get involved in immoral actives.”

“They don’t know how strict our coaches act when we are outside the valley. Our coaches don’t allow us to come out of our allotted hostel-rooms, and roaming outside freely is out of  the question, even the imagination.”

In recent years, girls have begun to refuse to bow down to society despite the many obstacles. They wear headscarves as they train. Hockey player Shazia Ayoub says that another problem is the lack of support. “All of us want to be part of the Indian national team but for the starters we need good quality playing grounds, the latest sports gear-and academies to enhance our skills”.

“Coaches are important for a player but other things matter too. We fight with our families, friends, relatives and society but in return get nothing from the government despite their tall claims of developing the sports infrastructure in Kashmir, especially for girls.” She says that an astro-turf ground is needed to better protect players from breaking their bones or spraining their muscles.

Kashmir-based female hockey players also say that they face more discrimination than their Jammu counterparts. Kashmiri women hockey players think that the state hockey association does not want them to progress. In January, Kashmir-based female hockey players staged a protest in Srinagar’s press enclave against the Jammu and Kashmir Hockey Association, alleging that the body had not informed Kashmiri players about trials held to select the state women hockey team for a national hockey championship in Ranchi.

The association justified itself by claiming that Kashmiri female players were beginners and not eligible for the trials, despite the fact that some of the players had already played in the same championship in 2016. Eventually, the Sports Council Secretary Waheed ur Rehman Parra intervened and female players were allowed to prove themselves in a trial.

Hockey coach Sitinder Jeet Singh wants to see more girls and women on the field. “The participation of girls in hockey is very low. But slowly the count is increasing and I’m hopeful that more and more girls will play hockey in the future.” “It is my dream to see at least three female players in Indian national hockey team.” He remembers when people used to throng to the fields to watch hockey. “When there are proper turfs, there will be tournaments which surely will develop interest in both boys and girls.”

The current director of the Jammu and Kashmir Sports Council, Rajnesh Kumar, did not comment on what the council was doing to improve conditions for women’s hockey but did say that a proposal had been forwarded for the construction of several turfs.

Reebu Jan, a two-time national hockey player, is probably the most-skilled player in Kashmir. She wants to play and win so that she can support her parents who live in extreme poverty.

She too wants to improve conditions so thst girls can choose hockey as their future career and not face the same difficulties as her generation.

“We just need a push and we will accelerate on our own.”

 

Author: Muheet ul Islam and Junaid Manzoor (act)

From Indian administered Kashmir

 

Date

05.10.2018 | 13:22

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