As you might have noticed, we have been writing recently about the stunning new data highlighting the economic ascendancy of Indian women (see, for example, our blog which highlights that urban Indian women have more money than men: Urban Indian Women Have More Money Than Men – Marcellus). These positive changes for women are now increasingly a pan-India phenomenon. This uplifting piece from Sagrika Kissu highlights how Kashmiri women are successfully becoming professional cricketers to earn a living in modern India. She begins by highlighting the presence of a women’s T20 league in Srinagar: “A group of young women leaped with joy at Srinagar’s Sher-i-Kashmir cricket stadium, some sporting caps, others in hijabs. They all wore green and orange jerseys announcing that they were the Anantnag Rebels.

Their elation stemmed from their triumph in the Kashmir Valley’s first Women’s Cricket League (WCL) T20 tournament, organised by the Indian Army under its Sadbhavna (goodwill) Project in collaboration with the Jammu and Kashmir Cricket Association, in August…

The WCL final drew an impressive crowd. Not only was the match held on a grand scale, it was the first time that women had played a tournament at Sher-i-Kashmir.

“Until four years ago, women were not even allowed to play at Sher-i-Kashmir,” said Abida Nazeer Khan, a certified professional women’s coach in J&K. “This was a personal achievement for women who would often be on the sidelines hooting for men and wishing to play at Sher-i-Kashmir stadium someday.””

As you would expect, it has been a long & arduous journey for women professional cricketers in Kashmir. Ms Kissu’s article breaks down the story into three phases.

The first phase was dark: “In 1990, at the height of militancy, Sher-i-Kashmir, was shut down and occupied by the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) for nearly two decades.

Though the cricket stadium was reportedly made accessible to players in 1996, the venue remained more of a paramilitary base than a cricketing hub until 2007. The last time there was a one-day international match here was in the 1980s, and the last Ranji match played here was in 2018.”

The second phase was when the Indian authorities started organising cricket tournaments as part of a counter-insurgency program: ““Even the indoor stadium of Sher-i-Kashmir and Bakshi Stadium (used mainly for football) were occupied by the CRPF. They were cleared between 2016 and 2018, when the BJP-PDP government was in power,” said Waheed Para, secretary of the J&K Sports Council in the same period.

The overall sporting scene itself has a lot of catching up to do. The volatile security situation in Kashmir has meant that sports has taken a backseat, with players struggling for even basic facilities.

According to Para, sport was treated like a “counter-terrorism programme” by successive governments, but never taken seriously for its own sake.

“Leagues and matches are organised from time to time to engage youth as part of counter-insurgency plans, but there are no long-term plans, no infrastructure, and no process of nurturing talent,” Para said. “In the midst of this, real talent is lost.””

As per Ms Kissu’s piece, the third phase began 2-3 years ago triggered by the pioneering steps taken by a brave & talented Kashmiri cricketer, Jasia Akhtar: “Kashmiri cricketer Jasia Akhtar famously defied poverty and militant threats to pursue her passion, but ultimately the lack of infrastructure in J&K forced her to relocate to Punjab around 10 years ago. This year, she became the first Kashmiri woman to be picked for the Women’s Premier League (WPL), playing for the Delhi Capitals.

Cut to 2023, and there’s another similarly inspiring story, but with a key difference. Anantnag’s Rubia Syed is expected to play for the Gujarat Giants in the forthcoming season of the WPL. But, unlike Akhtar, she didn’t have to leave J&K to chase her cricket dreams.

“To be honest, had Jasia Akhtar not moved to Punjab, she would not have reached WPL,” said coach Khan.”

Ms Akhtar’s success was followed by the successful launch of the Women’s Cricket League in Kashmir. Now there are talent hunts across the length and breadth of this stunningly beautiful state (if you haven’t been to Kashmir, you should book a trip ASAP). The story that Ms Kissu narrates this point in is a familiar one of determined girls traversing long distances each day to practice, to play and to rise in the world:

“Majid Dar, a 43-year-old former Ranji player and coach from Srinagar, was assigned the daunting task of revitalising the JKCA two years ago.
The dilapidated practice nets were refurbished, and new bats, helmets, balls were procured, and a talent hunt was organised across Kashmir for women players.

“When I took charge of JKCA, what struck me was that there were no women players in the stadium. It was all men. That’s when we sent a notification regarding a talent hunt across all districts of Kashmir to attract women players,” he told ThePrint.

Initially, only two women responded. “I, then, went ahead and tried to talk to the parents of these players. I took them into confidence and explained the process. Today, around 30 women players from far and wide come to the stadium every day to practice here,” Dar claimed.

One of these women is Budgam’s Saba Jan, 22. “What a ball! What a ball!” she shouted, catching the leather cork ball with ease.
Every day, Saba travels two hours each way on her two-wheeler to keep up with her practice. When she reaches the stadium, she swaps her abaya for a sports uniform and takes to the field.”

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