Taunted and rebuked by the conservatives during her teenage years for her passion for water sports, the encouraging words of her mother kept Bilquis Mir going. Now the 33-year-old is not only a household name and a youth icon in Kashmir but also a trusted coach and international judge.
I guess I was always inclined towards sports, says Bilquis Mir, the first female water sports professional from the Kashmir valley.
When I was around 12 years, I wanted to become a boxer. Because I watched my male cousins at home practise and sometimes I tried the same punches. But the elders in my family rebuked me, saying I was a girl and that I wasn’t supposed to do such sports.
But boxing went out of my mind after a chance visit to Dal Lake. I saw some boys kayaking in the lake and it got me hooked on water sports.
Soon I was participating in competitions.
When I came back home after attending a national water sports event at Manipur in 1998 I was met with severe criticism. It was my very first national event and people in my neighbourhood, friends and relatives, could only rebuke me and not see my achievement.
“You’re a girl. How can you go out in a sports outfit?” asked one of my relatives.
People objected to my sports dress and me participating in water sports events outside the valley.
In fact in the late nineties, the society here considered sports, and that too water sports, a taboo for women.
Being a female water sports professional, known or unknown was tough – virtually everyone opposed my choice. People’s criticisms made me hang up my boots for a while.
I seriously considered quitting.
But it was my mother who changed my perception.
Seeing my emotional trauma, my mother would often say, “Bilquis, you have to continue your passion. At this point of time, if you succumb to social pressures, it won’t be only you who will lose, but it will be the whole community of future female players like you whose dreams would be shattered.”
These words of my mother kept me going.
So I continued with my passion.
Women In Water Sports
Since many people think that girls are afraid of water, I decided to show the world that a girl can also be adventurous.
After competing at various state level competitions, I finally made it to national events. Soon it opened the gates for me in the international arena too.
Then I got into coaching.
I spent about 10 years coaching in what we call the Indian Camp – year-long training camps in different parts of the country.
I’m quite proud that I was the youngest coach for the Indian team. I was the national team’s coach for nearly nine years and also the Asian Games coach in 2010.
Can you imagine? From being scoffed at for taking to water sports to becoming a coach for the Asian Games team!
Not just a coach. I’ll be a judge for the upcoming Asian Games.
After my coaching stint across the country, I decided to return to the valley in 2014 and help youth – especially the girls – to get into water sports.
I’m overwhelmed by the positive response of the youth. Surely things have changed since my sporting days. And it’s really encouraging.
When I see parents accompanying their girl children to get enrolled in my coaching centre, I feel happy.
Interestingly, in all these years, a large number of my trainees have been girls. So far they’ve won over 120 medals in different categories of water sports at the national level.
Besides coaching people in canoeing and kayaking in Srinagar, I work as the director of the Water Sports Centre, Nehru Park.
The specialised diplomas in water sports from Germany and Hungary help me in my work.
It might sound cliche, but the only mantra I believe in is “Where there is a will, there is a way.”
This story first appeared on Village Square, and is part of a series in the run-up to National Girl Child Day, Jan 24, 2023, to highlight inspiring stories about the girls of rural India.
Suggested Reading: International Day Of The Girl Child: Will It Make A Difference In India?
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