Recently, a group of women from Jammu and Kashmir came to Delhi to play an exhibition match with legendary player Adam Gilchrist. Coincidentally, it was during the same time when the much awaited India-Pakistan final match of ICC Champion’s Trophy happened and India lost the tournament. During an interaction with Delhi University students, the Kashmiri players were compelled to prove their nationality by answering deplorable questions like “Which team did you support in yesterday’s Champions Trophy final, India or Pakistan?” and “What will you say to people who are living in India but cheering for Pakistan?” etc.

Abida Khan, coach of Jammu and Kashmir women’s team, rightfully slammed the inquisitive lot and said, “It’s really unfortunate that people ask such stupid questions to sportspersons.”

Abida was in Delhi with the entire team and they played a six-overs a side exhibition match between the Gilchrist-led Australian High Commission team and the Jesus & Mary College women’s team.

She told Indian Express, “We are representing the state, and in a way playing for India. These questions affect the team — the players who dream of playing for the national team one day. We are Kashmiris, but we have to prove that we are Indians.”

“On a day, there are two teams who are trying their best to win. India had a super tournament, with Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma performing. But on the day, Pakistan played better, and Fakhar Zaman played a good innings. You have to look at it in a sporting way. You cannot force someone to cheer for a team.”

Off-spinner Bushra Ashraf, who represented North Zone in an Under-19 tournament in 2015, agreed with Abida’s statement and said, “I played the zonals, and obviously my next target is to make it to the national team. Why do we have to prove that we support India?”

“Again, it is a sport and it is a personal choice to cheer for a team that is playing well. We lost to the JMC (Jesus and Mary College) team today but we were still boosting their girls up and celebrating with them.”

ALSO READ: Woman Football Coach Caught In Kashmir Stone-Pelting Row

The current scenario of violence, constant stone-pelting and disharmony between the army and civilians has triggered this kind of attitude in the ignorant students who tend to ask such nagging questions.

Abida shed light on the challenges Kashmiri women face to play the sport they love as she mentioned how families often don’t support girls playing cricket in Kashmir. “Then the violence makes it difficult to take part at Nationals,” the coach says. “They are not getting camps and are usually informed of a national camp only 3-4 days before. But this group proves that when you really love the game, there is a passion jo marke bhi khatam nahi hota.”

“Last year, we went for trials during a curfew,” says opener Farkhanda Khan. “There’s no cricketing atmosphere for us. No grounds and facilities. There are more opportunities for the boys. But there’s no point thinking of the situation. Without cricket our life is meaningless.”

The girls from Kashmir have to steer past mental and social stigma in the state to be able to play a sport and even dream about becoming a part of the national team. With no or bare minimum infrastructure and amenities in place, the stereotyping for them to prove wrong is another burden on their shoulders.

The disputed state recently had the newly-launched cricket academy in Srinagar which comes across as a positive sign in the path of empowerment of women in sports in the region and Abida believes it is a ‘hopeful sign’.

Picture credit- Brighter Kashmir