Stone-pelter to football star: Afshan Ashiq's life after viral photo
In the few months since Afshan Ashiq became the face of Kashmiri stone-pelters, life has changed dramatically for the young woman. The footballer has since climbed up in her chosen field and has been able to voice her concerns in front of top officials, including Home Minister Rajnath Singh. But the photo was what made it all happen.
How did a peace-loving girl end up picking stones?
Afshan had always discouraged her friends from stone-pelting. "In your desire for Azad Kashmir, you are also creating a backward Kashmir," she told them. But on April 24, her patience broke. As coach of the Kashmiri women's football team, she was escorting a group of young players to the Tourist Reception Centre ground. Suddenly, protests broke out nearby and police started firing tear gas.
"We might be women, but we are not weak"
In the chaos, a policeman came and started abusing Afshan's group and slapped a girl. Afshan protested, only to hear more abuse. By then, her demonstrator friends had arrived and were convincing them to join the protests. The girls wanted to, too. Afshan made her choice. "We cannot slap you, but we'll show you what we can do." And she picked up a stone.
Captaincy, meetings with important people and a biopic
As the photo of Afshan- blue salwar, face covered and pelting stones- went viral, people took notice. Soon, she met J&K CM Mehbooba Mufti. Recently she met Home Minister Rajnath Singh and requested a SAI institute in Kashmir for young girls. She is now captain of the state women's team and also plays for a Mumbai club. She has even inspired a Bollywood biopic!
Rajnath Singh meets J&K women's football team
J&K women's team a reflection of India's and state's diversity
The 22-member team that met Singh was reflective of the diversity that is India's defining feature. Coach Satpal Singh is a Sikh, manager Tsering Angmo is a Ladakhi, and the rest come from all three regions of the state.
So does Afshan believe violence will lead to good?
Afshan doesn't condone violence: "Stone-pelting was never going to sort out any issue if it hasn't in 28 years of insurgency." She also blames the separatists more than security personnel for the current condition But she doesn't regret her own stone-pelting incident, saying she wouldn't have done it "had it not been for police's misbehavior". "But now I have a reputation to maintain."
What's next for the footballer?
She believes sports can be turned into a weapon against violence, lauding the BJP-PDP government for their initiatives in encouraging sports. She too wants to focus on football now and "make my state and nation proud". The ultimate goal? "I want to play for India."