Jabeena Akhtar, a champion in the Chinese martial art of Wushu, recalls a taunt she got as a child. Akhtar was bruised while playing and taken to a clinic for treatment, the doctor sneered, “which international game she is going to play that injured her.’
“It still runs through my mind even today,” She told Maktoob.
Akhtar, a bronze medalist at the international Wushu championship held in Eravan, Armenia, in April 2017, started some fifteen years ago, when only a few girls had success in sports in the conflict-torn valley.
Citing the lack of facilities and social stigma as reasons for girls’ lack of participation in sports, Akhtar said “Back then girls were discouraged from participating in sports.”
Despite plenty of challenges and barriers, the Kashmiri women have left no stone unturned to make their valley popular and its residents proud in the world of sports.
“Wearing sports uniforms like tracksuits is itself a challenge to girls. We live in a place where there was zero exposure to games,” said Akhtar while recalling that people living around were looking down on her and her parents.
“People who knew or lived around us were saying that my parents have left me free which in the end had an impact on my mind. It is changing now.”
She said that if she had started in contemporary times, she would not have faced those challenges.
“There was a time when parents were not allowing their female children to participate in sports but now parents support their child in everything without looking at gender,” she said.
Apart from being an international medalist and the mother of two children, Akhtar is the first graduate from her village, which is located in North Kashmir.
“I’m the first girl who won a medal in a wushu game in Jammu and Kashmir.”
However, Akhtar is not the only Kashmiri woman who has faced such difficulties. Muskan Shaban, an international player who had also won a gold medal in martial arts at the national level, said that female athletes face criticism and trolls in Kashmir.
“There is no support from society,” she said.
“Even if the parents agree, the pressure from other people makes an impact.”
“My father is sometimes telling me not to participate in sports due to societal pressure,” Shaban told Maktoob.
Shaban said that there was a time when she didn’t tell her father that she was going to practice.
“I knew he wouldn’t allow me. When we go to practice, people think it is a waste of time. It’s a profession too,” Shaban said that the parents were saying that the girls should not take too long to return home.
“I got scolded a lot for coming home late,” she recalls.
Nighat Bashir, a martial arts trainer, blames a lack of awareness among people for trolling athletes. “Where there is awareness, people will support,” she told Maktoob.
“My father was trolled by neighbours and even relatives for allowing me to participate in sports,” Bashir said. But he used to tell me not to give up.
“In Kashmir our people ask girls to wash eating utensils at home instead of participating in sports.”
The athletes Maktoob Media spoke to claimed that things are gradually changing now.
A study conducted by six authors on ‘Opinion of Girl Students of Kashmir Valleys towards Participation in Sports’ published on ResearchGate reads as “The results of the study indicated that girl students like sports and wants to participate in sports for overall development but their culture, ethnicity, physical and spiritual challenges, parents, family members, society and political disturbance in Kashmir valley discourage them to participate in sports.”
“This study also confirms that the younger generation is not interested in traditional games of Kashmir but interested only in the games covered by electronic media and sports activities,” it reads.