KASHMIR has come a long, long way. Picture-postcard pretty with its landscapes, it’s had a history steeped in political turmoil, but has now been trying to crawl out of the tunnels of darkness. From the days of street protests and political unrest, there has been a notable shift towards peace, unity, and a sense of normalcy. And one major vehicle of this change has been street sports.
This transition symbolises a new forum of stability and growth, offering hope for the region’s youth and its people. The population has been actively participating in supporting street sports and maximising their reach to Jammu and Kashmir’s youth to keep them fit and out of negativity.
- That past of unrest
For decades, Kashmir had been a boiling pot of political tension – inner as well as outward – and the local population would always be caught in the crossfire. Street protests, often marked by stone-pelting and clashes with security forces, had become a frequent sight on the streets of the Valley. The unresolved political conflict had left a profound impact on the lives of Kashmiris, especially the younger generation.
A few years back, the walls and streets in Kashmir represented the shadows of clashes and protests. The burning fire of agitation not only caused political and civil unrest but led to financial losses and severe loss of direction for the youth. Education suffered terribly. Young minds got more and more trapped in turmoil causing psychological issues. With strikes and curfews across the years, the youth suffered in every way possible. Shutdown of schools, colleges and other educational institutions for as long as weeks and months, deprived the younger generation of opportunity and hope.
- Street sports: A ray of hope
In the recent years, a remarkable shift has been observed in the Valley – the emergence of street sports as a means of channelling youthful energy into positive and constructive avenues. This transition has brought about several noteworthy changes.
Street sports, be it cricket, football, or other recreational activities, have the power to transcend political and social divides. Communities come together to cheer for their local teams, fostering a sense of unity that goes beyond political affiliations. Providing a level playing field wherein individuals from diverse backgrounds can participate, regardless of their political views or affiliations, has helped build bridges and encourage dialogue among communities.
Needless to say that playing a sport brings about physical and mental well-being. It not only keeps people physically fit but also offers an outlet for stress and anxiety – so typical of a life in the Valley.
Street sports have opened new avenues for the Kashmiri youth to showcase their talents. Many young athletes have gained recognition at regional and national levels, offering a ray of hope and prospects for a better future in sports. Kashmir has started hosting sporting events, seasonal as well as day and night, attracting attention from the rest of India and even globally. These events serve as a platform for Kashmir to present a more peaceful and vibrant image to the world.
- But drugs are the real dread
Despite great efforts by varied sport hosting bodies, there is an increasing concern around the menace of drugs and crime.
Anwar Majeed, a local, shares his notes: “The administration has done a wonderful job by providing playgrounds which are accessible for sports events all day and night. Not just children are playing with high spirits but even adults are taking equal part. Such moments had been long forgotten but now, on a daily basis, we witness tournaments in cricket, soccer, hockey and others, which generate great positivity and an enthusiasm to work hard and persist. Yet, at the same time, we are intensely worried about our youth getting trapped in the menace of drugs. The menace is not a story of a few random towns or villages but runs across all districts of the Valley. Thousands of youngsters are falling victim to this menace every single day and the whole social media is flooded with such cases. And it’s not just males but a rising number of females too are stuck. Although there are rehabilitation centres, councillors and numerous other programmes to bring about awareness about this slow suicide and its causes, yet the destruction goes on”.
He continues, “The question is – even as so many efforts are being made for the youth and such sporting events are being held, why is this menace spreading at such an alarming speed? If this continues at the rate at which it is going, there would be a severe impact on Kashmir in every aspect. And soon there will be no Kashmir to secure and no Kashmiris to govern”.
While the transition from street protests to street sports is undoubtedly promising, the challenges remain. And the biggest is drug addiction and drug-related crime. In fact, if not stopped, soon the drug menace will hardly leave anyone capable of even these sports. To sustain this transition and further enhance stability and wellness in the Valley, it is crucial for all stakeholders, including governments, civil society, and the international community, to engage in quick thought and action to stop this trend in its tracks.
Says young athlete Aquib Shah: “I play for the local team in my locality. We have weekly matches on our community ground. We enjoy playing and want to play like never before! My favourite sport is cricket and playing it keeps me physically and mentally fit. But in the light of the rising drug menace, we request the powers that be to please resolve this soon before our playgrounds turn into dumps and places for drug dealers and addicts”.
Indeed, Kashmir’s transition from unrest to sports may offer a glimpse of what the region can achieve; it’s time to take the drug menace by its horns and defeat it so that the trail to peace and prosperity could be free of obstructions.