Sabahat Afreen is an international Martial Artist; Jameela Bano is a young Ice Hockey player. Likewise there are other Kashmiri girls who are constantly fighting challenges to emerge as leaders in a society where sports generally belong to men.
In 2013, when Sabahat Afreen began doing Martial Arts, she was ridiculed in her neighbourhood. She had to face criticism as to why a girl in burkha opted for sport.
“For a girl who belonged to Nowpara-Bandipora, going to the stadium each day for playing was definitely a challenge. People just stared at me as if I belonged to some other planet.”
But Sabahat did not change, rather she brought a change. Her constant persuasion for perfection and her sheer determination resisted the society; she not only brought medals for herself but courage for all those girls who want to empower themselves through sports. And thus the stigma gradually faded away.
Being the daughter of a sportswomen (her mother was a Hockey player), Sabahat got support from her family. But the biggest support came from Padmashri Faisal Ali Dar– her coach.
“It’s very necessary for a student to have proper guidance from a coach. I got that from Faisal sir. He acted as a guiding light and mentored me. Whatever I have achieved today is because of sir whose skill, technique and moves helped me to learn the nitty-gritty of this sport.”
Sabahat has won two national gold medals in Kick Boxing and a national gold in Tong II Moo-Do. She has also won bronze in an international Taekwondo championship held in Bangkok. She won gold in Pencak Silat Federation Cup as well. Sabahat is now aiming to be an IPS officer and also an Olympic medal winner.
Sabahat Afreen belongs to a new generation of Kashmiri girls who are constantly combating to break the stereotype; Jameela Bano is another one in this group. Like Sabahat, Jameela also belongs to Bandipora district of Kashmir and is an Ice Hockey player who trains in Ali’s Sports Academy.
“I belong to a remote village where people couldn’t think of girls and women going out to work; playing sport is unbelievable to them. So when I started playing in 2019, I was heavily trolled. I felt like a criminal. Even my family didn’t support me.”
Jameela, like many other Kashmiri girls, could have a similar story if she had not written it differently. Jameela nonchalantly brushed aside the ‘red eye’ of the society and remained stubborn in her approach to life. Playing Ice Hockey was her priority and nothing came in between.
In 2020, when Jameela was selected to compete in National Ice Hockey Tournament, then things started to change. Her family overcame old inhibitions, shoved the idea that girls could not wear sporting uniform and felt the need to support their young girl.
Jameela has now become an inspiration in her locality. She not only plays for herself but opened a small unit of Ali’s Sports Academy in her village to train younger girls in sports. Faisal Dar is extremely proud of his student on whom he has a lot of faith. He said, “Jameela is a young girl who belongs to a financially backward family. She is working hard to establish herself as a sportswomen and also helping other girls to play sports. She is definitely a torchbearer in her society.”
Amidst political unrest, social derision and financial constrain, these Sabahats and Jameelas are pushing their boundaries. They are a source of integration in a fragmented society where meaningful display of leadership, sportsmanship and team spirit can lead to empowerment and freedom.