Sports could be the best medium to de-radicalise Kashmir youth, says a woman footballer whose viral picture showing her hurling stones at security forces once earned her the tag of stone-pelter.
Afshan Ashiq, 23 -- the latest sports sensation from the troubled valley -- said introducing Kashmiris to sports and building a better sports infrastructure would make a lot of difference to the state which has 65 per cent of its population aged below 30 years.
The footballer wanted Kashmiris to venture more into sports to find solutions to their problems.
Asked her impression about youth on one hand idolising icons like cricketer Pervez Rasool and kickboxer Tajamul Islam, Bollywood actor Zaira Wasim and militant leaders Zakir Musa and slain commander Burhan Wani on the other, Afshan said sports can cure such confusions.
"Kashmir has got good (amount) of talent. It would be better if they are motivated to venture into sports, which can be the best thing to solve our issues. That way our state will be known for great players hailing from there," Afshan told IANS during a visit to the capital before flying to Mumbai to watch an Indian Super League (ISL) football match.
Asked about her journey from a rock-thrower image to being a sports icon, Afshan said she was not a habitual stone-pelter but was triggered to react when a policeman misbehaved with her and her teammates.
"Yes, I pelted stones at the police along with other girls. I have absolutely no regrets about it.
"We were just a group of girls walking together when the police mistook us to be protesters. I clarified that we were sportspersons but they started abusing us and slapped one of us. We lost patience and gave it back," she said.
She lamented that there were no female personnel there to deal with women. She said girls should know that they are not weak and that is what she did when she picked a stone as a sign of protest.
"You should never endure any form of injustice. Just stand for yourself with courage always. That is exactly what I did."
Her 22-member team of footballers met Home Minister Rajnath Singh who said that the girls were "playing the role of new age 'gender benders' and are setting an example for others to follow".
Afshan, having founded the club, has had a great contribution to make to the lives of women in her state by giving a platform to those who have a knack for the game.
This inspirational girl's journey against the taboo has certainly not been easy.
There were family members and people in society telling her "you are a girl, sports is meant for boys".
"I tried hard to convince them. I told them I was interested more in sports than in studies," she said.
It took time and she finally started playing cricket which unfortunately didn't work out for her as she didn't get selected in the state team.
She switched to football and has been playing the sport for the past five years.
(Mudita Girotra can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)