How sports in Kashmir changed after scrapping Article 370
The absence of sports activities in Kashmir after August 5, 2019, has diminished the expectations amongst the youth who had once started harbouring dreams of pursuing sports.
The erstwhile state of Jammu & Kashmir was divided into three regions, differentiated by the virtues of religion, culture, and tradition. It was only sports that united them. The government had always adopted sports as the component for outreach and re-engagement with the Kashmiri youth.
However, the absence of sports activities at ground zero after August 5, 2019, has diminished the expectations amongst the youth who had once started harbouring dreams of pursuing sports as their career.
Among the total population of J&K, 69 per cent comprises the youth. It is a known fact that teenagers are more prone to associate themselves with radical activities, which further radicalises the youth. The average age of youth in Kashmir joining militancy has been found below 30 and nobody since August 5, 2019, had tried to engage with those who have been joining militant forces.
However, the initiative taken by J&K Police to call back the "misguided" youth is appreciable. Sporting activities at ground zero could help in countering such activities. J&K Government had established Youth Services & Sports department (YS&S) and J&K State Sports Council (JKSSC) pretty long ago to inculcate training and provide a platform to the youngsters to excel in the sports arenas at national and international levels. But J&K is yet to produce a sportsperson who could have rose to the occasion of winning a gold medal at the Asian Games, leave aside the Olympics.
The main role of the YS&S is to ensure the deputation of physical education teachers at government-run schools, whereas, the JKSSC used to perform a dual role of an advisory and an administrative body. The members of the JKSSC used to be nominated by the government every four years.
Before July 2018, the government, through JKSSC, engaged the youth in multi-disciplinary sports activities ranging from organizing coaching camps in 18 districts of the state, followed by the largest Sports Carnival- first of its kind, through the implementation of the Khelo India Scheme at villages and Block levels in 16 districts of the state.
The enthusiasm and excitement that was created at that time among youth, mainly in the age group of under-14 and under-17, is being understood as a medium of expression of youth energies of an otherwise anarchic young generation that has fallen a victim to long turbulent turmoil in the valley. The credit of making sports a new discourse before July 2018 can be attributed to a single person who is now languishing in jail — Waheed Ur Rehman Para.
Appreciation, obligation, and acceptance to aspiring sportspersons and youngsters of the erstwhile state by the former Secretary of J&K State Sports Council, Waheed Ur Rehman Para encouraged them and boosted their morale. They started winning at different tournaments, championships which made the erstwhile state enlist in Sports Board both at national and at international levels.
Waheed turned these young sportspersons into the real ambassadors of peace and harmony and always felt the importance of youth participation at every level. Due to his profound exertions, a rise in the participation of the aspiring players and youngsters could be seen. In the year 2015, 60,000 players participated in various sports disciplines including domestic tournaments. In 2016, despite unrest in the valley, 1,20,000 youngsters participated through the sports council for various disciplines. In 2017, 89,612 players from 22 Districts of J&K had participated in various sports, where over 25,000 were girls. The total number of aspiring and budding sportspersons who received sports coaching in various disciplines during the financial year 2016-2017 increased to 50,000.
Waheed's keen efforts marked the beginning of exchange programs and we saw international coaches from Sri Lanka, France, and other countries coming down to train athletes in sports like rugby, football, water sports, taekwondo, wushu to make them compete at international levels.
Under his supervision, sports complexes in the downtown of Srinagar, like the Gani Memorial, Radpora Playing field Khanyar, Chinkral Mohalla Fateh Kadal, Baghi Waris Khan at Kalai, among others were developed. And today, the same gamechanger is languishing in jail.
Sports scenario in present-day Kashmir
The consecutive administrations failed to understand the effort put by Waheed's Youth Sports Engagement Programme in continuity without the effort for bringing a paradigm intellectual shift in the targeted derailed youth generation. J&K Government never attempted to plan programs that shall be mainly designed for the youth population who don't have a right to vote. This perceptive part of the population is not directly involved in the political process but have had been used by anti-social and opportune elements to derail certain processes.
The decline in sporting events will have an adverse impact. The government needs to transcend cultural differences and bring people together. The deliberate downfall of the democratically elected government in J&K came as a blow to the sports too.
It is only recorded on files and documents that a large number of youth presently are associated with the government-run sports bodies of J&K, but in reality, not more than 15,000 have been benefited from last years with the strong impetus of ground zero activities.
Who runs sports affairs in J&K?
The body of the JKSSC was dissolved in 2018 and till now, no new member has been nominated who in turn elect the joint secretaries both for Kashmir and Jammu for developmental processes. The administrations led by Satyapal Malik, G.C Murmu, and now the new LG Manoj Sinha, failed to form the Sports Council body throwing the revised constitution of the organization to winds.
The question arises, who is getting benefitted by not allowing the formation of the Sports Council body resulting in non-engagement of youth in the Union Territory. Forming a Sports Council body will not only ease the problems of the youngsters, trained NIS coaches, sports associations, but will also create a sense of security and responsibility to make J&K a sporting superpower and engagement of youth for larger interests. The dignity and pride that the sportspersons and youth of J&K lost these years are only because of the government's non- callous approach towards the formation of the body.
The Centre had been finding it hard to reach out to youngsters after the imposition of Governor's rule in 2018 despite repeated attempts. Where politics failed, sport used to provide a face-saver. Sports was seen as a new discourse in Jammu and Kashmir.
Conventional wisdom says that to rise above and beat your competitors, you need to one-up them. But the sports scenario in the J&K is the opposite. Less participation and decline in vibrant sports activities only reflect the policy of the present dispensation.
The competitive landscape changes all the time. Till the time, J&K government is not involving the youngsters at rural or community levels, sports in the UT will remain a distant dream for the next generation.
During the years 2016 and 2017 J&K state witnessed a huge graph in sporting activities and medal tally resulting in more youngsters joining the sports. From Militant Burhan Wani's love for cricket to Militant Manan Wani's love for football, sports in J&K have limited and littered with dead documents and close door tournaments that do nothing but waste money and people's time.
Is it true that the J&K government is allowing the aliens to set the parameters for sports in J&K? They're defining the rules of the game. And you can't beat someone who's making the rules. Let good sense prevail. It is high time for the government to release Waheed Para and use his expertise of youth engagement for larger youth interests and their future in the mainstream, sports et al.
About the author:
Umer Wani is a Ph.D Scholar at the Department of Journalism & Mass Communication, IUST. He is also a fellow at Bridge Institute, Kalinga Fellow-2020. He has been a U.S Legislative Fellow since 2016. He was recently awarded the gold medal in the testimony of having secured 1st position in Master of Journalism degree.