Kashmir’s beauty and picturesque landscape has been tarnished that has been plaguing this ‘paradise on earth’ for the last three decades. Whereas former Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee tried very hard to mend fences with Islamabad since he sincerely believed that unlike friends, one cannot change neighbour. Thus, thanks to Pakistan’s insincerity, the hopes of any meaningful Indo-Pak dialogue to end the conflict in Jammu and Kashmir remains an elusive dream.
Militancy has taken a heavy toll on the psyche of people of Kashmir as the continuing violence and frequent shutdowns has upset normal life and education has been adversely affected. Various pressures have driven people to despair and many have even ended up ruining their lives and becoming a source of grief for family members and friends by seeking refuge in drugs and if unchecked, this unhealthy trend portends disaster for society. Luckily, there’s a positive side too as many young boys and girls have not been discouraged by the prevailing hardships and instead taken it as a challenge to excel.
It’s rightly said that, one day, one event can change your life, provided you can discern what’s really good for you. Take the case of football enthusiast Afshan Ashiq who became a social media celebrity when a photograph showing her in the process of stone pelting, went viral. She had done so spontaneously out of sheer desperation and quickly realised that pelting stones wasn’t her calling. It goes to the credit of the administration that she wasn’t hounded for her momentary and impulsive act; instead, she was encouraged by the administration to channelise her energies into football, which was her first love.
Afshan is now the captain of Kashmir’s women’s football team and provides coaching to youngsters aspiring to become professional footballers. She represented FC Kolhapur City in the 2019 Indian Women’s League football competition and her dream is to break existing taboos in our society that forbids participation of girls in sport disciplines like football that involve excessive physical exertion. Afshan has emerged as a source of inspiration for girls who wish to participate in sporting events and her extraordinary coaching abilities have helped several girls who have a passion for sports but lacked the required proficiency and skills to pursue their dreams.
To ensure comprehensive training of female football enthusiasts, Afshan founded her own academy to help and hone the sporting talent of young girls as well as give them an opportunity to follow their passion and make a career in sports just like men do. In fact, when she met Prime Minister Narendra Modi, he complimented Afshan by saying that “you’ve become an inspiration for girls all over Kashmir and India. Following you, many girls will come forward, seeing you as an example.”
Aimed to bring out sporting talent in girls, the ‘She Power Programme’ is one of the first of its kind which is a collaboration of Real Kashmir Football Club and Delhi Public School Srinagar. Initiated in the Valley, this initiative provides women of Kashmir an opportunity to participate in football matches. Seeing the positive and overwhelming response, they are developing Women Football in Kashmir as a parallel to Men’s Football, which not only empowers women but also boosts their morale as it is an excellent platform to showcase their talent and pursue their passion.
When someone talks about how the pursuit for excellence makes people excel in sports, another name that comes to mind is that of Danish Manzoor who belongs to Baramulla in North Kashmir. A budding taekwondo expert, he may not have won many medals but this hasn’t dampened his burning ambition of representing India in the Olympics. His dedication and hard work serve as a source of inspiration for the youth in Kashmir and many young boys are flocking to learn and excel in this not so common discipline of martial arts.
Disability doesn’t necessarily mean inability because disability is restricted to only limbs and senses but not the spirit. As long as one possesses a strong will and the determination to overcome physical disability, no one can stop them from pursuing their dreams or doing great things that people think cannot be achieved by physically challenged persons.
Aijaz Ahmed Ahanger, who lives in Manzgam, Kulgam is blind from birth, but has never given up on life. He plays Sarangi like any other trained expert and sings like a true, trained, and committed singer, mesmerizing hundreds of people in and around his village with his melodious voice. Though he lost his parents at an early age, a good teacher and spiritual guide who saw the spark in him trained Aijaz for over 15 years and his guidance ensured that he never wandered towards the wrong path.
Over the years the visually impaired Aijaz has compiled over 40 songs, the majority of them being of Sufism genre. He is loved for his excellent composition and brilliant rendition. He is an inspiration for many blind people who have quit begging on streets in Southern districts of Kashmir and chosen other honourable ways way of earning a living like Aijaz. Most importantly, Aijaz is living proof that with the will to succeed and do something in life, people can achieve their dreams as long as they work hard and don’t deviate from the right path.
In professional courses too. The youth of Jammu and Kashmir have captured high ground in every field whether it is Engineering, IIT, IIM or IAS. One such example that comes to mind of every Indian is Shah Feasel who topped the prestigious and extremely challenging IAS exams in 2009. What made him a source of inspiration is the fact that despite coming from a very humble background and his father being killed by militants, Feasel didn’t allow his traumatic experiences to hamper his ambition of excelling in academics. However, his career also teaches us an equally important lesson that over-ambition too can be as dangerous as its total absence.
Discontented by the working environment and fired by political ambition, Feasel floated his own political party JKPM to try his luck in politics and promised people the moon. He got a very good response especially the youth who trusted him blindly, but consequent to the scrapping of Article 370, Feasel decide to quit, presumably after realising that now the political game-plan would require politicians to deliver rather than just making hollow promises and indulging divisive politicking in order to garner votes.