By K Raka Sudhakar Rao
14 June 2018
Some images stay on forever. Afshan Ashique’s image was such. A year-and-a-half ago, Afshan Ashique’s pic was all over the place. Every media – both local and global – carried it prominently. Here was a young Kashmiri Muslim college-going girl in hijab and a bag slung around her shoulders, pelting stones at the police forces in Srinagar. The fire in the eyes and the grit on the half-covered face were unmistakable. The angry arching back and fiery bending forward showcased the indolent might so typical of a rebellious teen. Overnight, she became a poster girl of the separatists and the Azadi hollerers.
Ever wondered where is Afshan Ashique now? The angry stone-pelter of yesterday is a top-notch goal-keeper today determined to intercept every ball hurled at her. She is the captain of Jammu Kashmir’s women’s football team. She is under intensive coaching in Mumbai and is raring to have a go at international outings. She wants to represent India.
Well! The image of stone-pelter Afshan was there everywhere. But not many know about Afshan, the goal keeper. TVs aren’t’ interested in the Afshan of today. The papers do not find her transformation story enough to be published in their columns. They do not want to write about her as it runs counter to their well-woven narrative.
It was the very Army that was at the receiving end of her anger, which spotted her talent. It found an incipient footballer in her. It groomed her, trained her and turned her into a first class footballer. She was made to play with men as women footballers are hard to get in today’s Kashmir. Now under intense coaching under the tutelage of team manager Tsering Ango and Coach Satpal Singh, she is preparing to enter the big league.
Her meeting with Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh changed her profoundly. When she complained about lack of sports infrastructure in Kashmir and near total absence of encouragement for women’s sports, Rajnath told her that the Centre had apporitioned Rs 100 crore under a special package for sports promotion in Jammu and Kashmir. He immediately called up chief minister Mufti Mehbooba and spoke to her about it. “We did not know about all these,” she recalls and says she came back very impressed by the down-to-earth home minister. In fact, even her stint in Mumbai is thanks to the initiative of the minister.
The media, which revel in writing about the mad 72-hoor-chasers from an imaginary world up above, finds these transformative stories, not write worthy! No wonder, Afsan the stone pelters is agenda-setter’s preferred choice and it does not want to hear or write about Afshan the footballer. (The latest buzz is that director Manish Harishankar is making a movie on Afshan’s life.)
This, in essence, is Kashmir’s tragedy. We all know about Burhan Wani’s romance with the rifle thanks to the reams rolled out from the media stable. But, how many of us know about another Wani, who represents the other Kashmir? There are no reports about Nabeel Ahmed Wani. Both are Kashmiris. Muslims both and their stories sound very similar. Their backgrounds are strikingly identical.
Burhan was from Tral and Nabeel is from Udhampur that abuts Tral. Burhan’s dad is a teacher. Mom and elder brother are post-graduates. Nabeel’s father Rafique Ahmed Wani is a school teacher too. Both Burhan and Nabeel were enamoured of guns. Burhan held a gun handed out by the Hizbul Mujahideen. Nabeel was a first class pass-out in SSC. He did computer engineering and was a college topper. He became an assistant engineer. But, his passion for the gun did not let him live in peace as an engineer. He took the written test to join the BSF. He topped that too. He did the interviews and then went through a gruelling physical training regimen.
Today, he is serving the BSF and is guarding the borders of the country. Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh met and complimented Nabeel, the other Wani. Strangely, Nabeel is missing from Kashmir’s dominant narrative. Significantly, while Tral was burning in the aftermath of Burhan’s death, Udhampur was rejoicing Nabeel’s success.
Jammu Kashmir is not just about Burhan Wani. It is also about Nabeel Wani. It’s not just about Asiya Andrabi. It is also about Afshan Ashique. For every Burhan, there are scores of Nabeels. For one Asiya, there are countless Afshans. But Nabeels and Afshans do not fit into the dominant narrative of the media, fed for years on the staple doled out by Ali Shah Gilanis and Mir Waizs. So, they go missing from the Kashmir landscape that they paint. The gate-keepers of news and their agenda-setting just punches ‘ctrl alt del’ on their storiesIt
To hell with gate-keeping and the vicious agenda-setting!! It’s time the stories of countless Nabeels and Afshans of Kashmir are told!! They should not remain mere insignificant footnotes!!