Catapulted into the limelight for the wrong reasons, Kashmiri goalkeeper Afshan Ashiq is keen to grow out of the 'stone-pelter-turned footballer' tag after taking part in the ongoing Indian Women's League (IWL).
A photo of Afshan had gone viral on social media in December 2017 where she was seen throwing a stone at the Jammu and Kashmir police. Afshan was coaching budding 12-22 years old Kashmiri women football players at the Tourist Reception Centre ground in Srinagar when demonstrations broke out.
"They (police) abused us, slapped my students. If they treat us like that, what do they expect from us?" Afshan was quoted as saying by News18.com on the sidelines of IWL, where she plies her trade for FC Kolhapur City.
"I was labelled a stone pelter-turned into footballer. But I have always been a footballer, that was just one day," she said.
"I shouted 'why are you calling me a stone-pelter, I am not that' and I was told 'you threw like a professional stone-pelter'. Media made that kind of odd narrative and I was like 'please remove that label'.
In that photo, Afshan's face was covered with a dupatta (a piece of cloth). But that did not stop the J&K sports secretary, and later her family from reprimanding her.
"After that incident, when I went for training, I thought nobody would know that it was me, but the sports secretary came and said 'you are famous on social media now'. I was like 'what did I do? I didn't do anything'. He was like 'give me five minutes, you will come to know what you did'."
Afshan was wearing the same dress that she wore during the protest and that helped the sports secretary identify her.
"I had to accept. He said 'I'm with you, just talk to the media and tell them the truth. Just tell them what happened'. Everybody is thinking that there is no future of sports in Kashmir and I thought 'okay, I will talk'."
My father was not as relenting as the sports secretary, Afshan said.
"After two months, my dad came to know about the incident and I was not allowed to leave home for one month. It was really bad. I used to beg my mom and tell her I'll just play for half an hour and come back. But she said she couldn't do anything and I had to be at home. For one month I could not play football and it was really tough for me. Then one day I was having dinner with dad and he looked at me and said, 'why are you crying?' I was like 'you ask me to sit at home, what do I do'. He then allowed me to go out and I could play again."
The tag of a stone pelter stayed, threatening to derail her efforts in building a culture of women's football in Srinagar. Unique Football Girls, an academy she had started, had been training up to 150 girls at the TRC ground.
"We have this mentality that girls can't play. I used to tell them 'give me a ground anywhere, I will train them' but they refused. I fought a lot to get the TRC ground from the government to train my girls. They were telling me that they'll give me Bakshi stadium because that's all surrounded by army, but the parents didn't want that. They used to say boys would come to watch and comment at TRC. I told them boys used to comment even when I started playing, but I got around it and the other girls will to," Afshan said.
Currently sidelined with an injury in the IWL, Afshan is pursuing her playing career in Mumbai. "I'm playing in Mumbai for PIFA. I'm playing for Kolhapur here. I was playing for J&K last year. Before that I played for Mumbai in the qualifier. I was conducting coaching in Kashmir, but I want to pursue my playing career.
"There are 10-12 teams in the Mumbai state league and the tournament goes on for a month. Apart from this league, I play 5-a-side and 7-a-side tournaments. Then there is this Roots Premier League. We play three months for that too".
Afshan will take part in the Roots Premier League, an 8-a-side tournament, next in Mumbai. But by her own admission, she wants to return to the Valley and help the girls there to tread her path.
The success of Real Kashmir, which finished third in the I-League this season on debut, has inspired many youngsters from the state to think of a career in the game, says Afshan. "I have asked Real Kashmir, when are you starting a team? I want to play for a team from my state."
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)