30 Sep 2020
“A sense of pride has the power to raise people’s lives and hopes from the ordinary to the truly extraordinary.” – this has been the motto of the Indian Army, to instil a sense of pride in the youth of Kashmir since 1980. The enigma is that the Indian Army has motivated thousands of youth of Kashmir to join the armed forces and the number has increased year on year. But apart from organising recruitment rallies, conducting skill development workshops and empowering the women of the valley to create their own home based ventures, the Indian Army has taken upon its shoulders the responsibility to help the youth of Kashmir in pursuit of their dreams as well. A very recent example of this was seen in the Indian Army pledging its support to the budding lady cricketer from Jammu & Kashmir – Iqra Rasool.
The Indian Army through its various initiatives has been guiding and motivating the youth of the valley to believe in their potential, to look beyond the gender stereotypes and relentlessly put in efforts to accomplish the extraordinary. They made Iqra believe that “She was a strong woman, who shall not sit around feeling sorry for herself, nor let people mistreat her. She does not have to respond to people who dictate to her or try to bring her down. If she falls, she will rise up even stronger because she is a survivor and not a victim. She is in control of her life and there is nothing she can’t achieve” and with these inspiring words, Iqra Rasool has been breaking stereotypes for a girl born and brought up in the Kashmir valley and then opting for cricket as a career.
Born on August 15th, 2000, in a middle class family to Ghulam Rasool Lone, who runs a local bakery in Dangiwacha village in Kashmir does not really bring the extraordinary streak in one’s life. Iqra was fascinated with playing sports than being a captive audience in a classroom. However, her father always emphasised on completing her formal education as it would mean an opportunity for her to pursue a life outside the chaos of the valley. Before Iqra developed a fascination for cricket, she dribbled volleyball, shot handballs, and dodged opponents in Kho-Kho in school competitions. Iqra’s potential was recognized by her sports teacher, Mr. Sarfaraz, during the early years of her schooling who became her first coach and helped fine-tune her capabilities. Iqra was a quick learner and soon was seen leading her school and then her state at national tournaments.
But, the road was not as easy it looked. It was not an easy feat for Iqra. Donning a cricket jersey in the conservative society of Kashmir and pursuing her dream of playing in the “Playing XI” of the Indian’s women international cricket team. She did not only have the society persecuting her but she also faced resistance from the elders of her family. She first had to convince her own parents and family that she had what it took to make it big in the field of professional cricket. It was not until the day she bowled in the Baramulla Premier League that her father first found out how good Iqra was at her game.
The Baramulla Premier League a flagship event of the Indian Army is being organized to actively pursue their doctrine of supporting and promoting the youth of Kashmir. The story begins when Iqra Rasool, motivated by her school coach, convinced her parents of her potential of being an ace bowler and playing cricket in the big league. She had led her school to victories in various tournaments but she needed more exposure and a larger platform to prove herself. The writer of this article, while performing the duties of 2IC of 46 RR, had heard stories about a girl from Dangiwacha, a village located in the Baramulla district, who was breaking social taboos. She was creating waves with the message that sports was no more the property of the boys in town, it was time that people see girls equally capable of participating in any sport they like. The officer saw this as an opportunity to further the endeavours of the Indian Army in empowering not just the boys of the valley but extend their support to empowering young women in the pursuit of their dreams. Iqra Rasool was invited for final match of the Baramulla Premier League Boy’s Cricket Tournament & was asked to bowl an over to the best batsman of the tournament.
There she was motivated by Cdr, 19 Arty Bde & told that “Iqra I can only give you one over and in that over you will have to show everyone what you can do as a cricketer”. Iqra was nervous but she replied with a confident ‘Yes Sir’ and true to her words, she proved herself and clean bowled a talented cricketer of Baramulla who was J&K state level player and this became the turning point in Iqra’s life from where she never looked back. She went on to represent India in Under-19 and Under-23 levels and was honoured with (H.E.R) award from Mithali Raj in 2017. The Indian Army did not just stop at providing her a platform to prove her mettle. In the year 2019, to support the budding fast pace bowler, 32 RR felicitated and provided her with financial assistance of Rs. 50,000 to help her pursue the dream of representing India in the international arena.
The Indian Army has been known for its exemplary contributions to the state of J&K in women empowerment. In continuation of its efforts to reach out to the locals & to strengthen the bonding with people in the valley the Indian Army has been relentlessly organising and engaging with the youth in different forums. In 2018, establishing the state-of-the-art skill development centre at sector 10 Headquarters of Rashtriya Rifles (RR) in Haiderbeg, Pattan area in Baramulla district in Jammu and Kashmir was a testimony to the philosophy and commitment of the Indian Army to help the youth of the valley. From sponsoring educational and national integration tours for almost 7800 youth under the aegis of ‘Operation Sadbhavna’ to ‘Winning Hearts and Minds’ programme described simply as a people-oriented process for establishing human, social and political linkages in Kashmir for the common good, contributing to building the concept of nationhood. Under the programme, the Indian Army undertook plethora of civic initiatives for the youth to mitigate the venom instilled in their minds.
Broadening the scope of their efforts, the Indian Army is now designing programmes for overall development of women in the valley, to include free educational schemes, scholarships, vocational courses & National Skill Development Centres and provide them opportunities to create a decent life for themselves. The Indian Army has come to realise that over the years it has been able to remove the tag of an instrument of the state and has stepped into the shoes of being a facilitator and also the protector of the thousands of innocent young minds and develop a bond of mutual faith and trust which a soldier enjoys across the country.