Srinagar: The energy with which sports activities are being carried out in Kashmir indicates that New Delhi and the state government are trying to use sports as a distraction from the pro-freedom movement, especially for the students who are at the forefront of street protests.
In the past quarter of the year, many ‘initiatives’ taken at the highest level by the J&K government imply that sports is being put to bat against the prevalent situation. Until now, the government had hardly shown any interest in facilitating and organising sports activities in the state.
The J&K State Sports Council (JKSSC) in a meeting held with ‘sports coordinators’ last week, claimed that “in recent months, 1,20,000 players played at block/district levels in various disciplines for which the registrations were sought earlier.”
The government’s major sports initiatives, ‘Khelo India’ and ‘Sports for All’, seek registration of teams and clubs right from the village and block level, and offer perks including free sports kits, uniforms, awards, the chance to play at state, national or international level, and receive direct support from the JKSSC for creation or renovation of village/ward playgrounds.
The new interest in sports is evident from the establishing of J&K’s maiden cricket academy, the Governor suggesting a review of the sports policy, the Indian sports minister meeting Kashmir youth, the J&K Sports Council surveying playing fields, and the chief minister talking of sports in every other speech.
Former vice-chancellor, Islamic University of Science & Technology Prof Siddiq Wahid agreed that the government wants to “appease” youth through sports activities.
“Clearly, that is what they (government) are trying to do- use sports as an antidote to political unrest. By this they want to appease youth and keep them busy. But what they fail to understand is that the reason for the unrest is the political uncertainty that haunts this state,” Wahid told Kashmir Reader.
He said that political uncertainty has destroyed educational institutions in Valley. “You cannot have a strong sports program within weak educational institutions and at the same time hope it will work. But it won’t,” he said.
Back in 2010, when the Valley witnessed a fierce summer agitation in which more than 120 people lost their lives, and stone-pelting incidents were frequent on the streets, the Omar Abdullah government reportedly worked on a plan to decongest Srinagar city by shifting many residents to new housing colonies in the city suburbs in a bid to quell the stone-pelting and street protests in downtown areas.
“Srinagar has given us most of the trouble in the past 14 months because of protests and stone-pelting. One reason for the plan is certainly to ensure peace but that is not all; Srinagar has been ignored for decades and people need development here. Srinagar gave us eight seats and it is time to repay,” a minister had told the Indian newspaper, The Telegraph.
That plan did not take off as the stone-pelting and street protests continued and intensified in the following years.
The ruling PDP youth president and JKSSC Secretary Waheed-ur-Rehman Parra, who has been at the forefront of most of the recent sports initiatives, said that the increased sports activities have nothing to do with diffusing tensions. “These programmes were always there. It is just that the JKSSC seriously pursued them from this year and they are more visible now. As far as ‘Sports for All’ is concerned, it is a new initiative aimed to organise the unorganised sports in villages,” he said.
“It has got nothing to do with the situation. In fact, the current situation is a hindrance to developing the sports culture in the state. Sports cannot help bring peace, but peace can help sports,” Parra said.
He said that earlier it were the government forces like the army, CRPF and police who were organising sports activities and therefore, the participation of people in them was not much. “But now civil bodies like ours (JKSSC) have become more active in sports. Our initiatives have received huge response from the general public. The state government is serious about initiating youth-centric programmes, and sports is one among the many of them. We have asked for doubling the allocated funds in this fiscal year so that we expand our sports activities and bring more youths into our initiatives,” Parra said.