Kashmir- Can sports be a stress buster in times of conflict?
July 19th, 2017
Against the backdrop of unending violence in Kashmir, much of love and labour is lost. All we hear about is growing unrest in the valley between militants, terrorist, armies, stone pelters and all other strata of people that violence can beseech. From a paradise on Earth, Kashmir is now reduced to no man’s land. Whilst two countries continue to fight over a piece of land, the innocent people of Kashmir are caught in between the cross hairs. What common people want is just a peaceful atmosphere to live in but with the army’s atrocities, Pakistan’s terrorism and their own quest for freedom, all they have been left with is a chaotic unrest not just around them but also within them which makes them live in a constant state of fear in their own land. For them, their normal life consists of indefinite curfews, violence, terrorism and all that can put an otherwise sane mind in a state of unrest.
Médecins Sans Frontières, or Doctors Without Borders, have reported that 45% of the population of Kashmir is suffering from mental illnesses. Going to school, college, work or to the market means first assessing the danger to your life in moving out of the house. This translates to a mind captured with the instinct to survive in an utterly dangerous atmosphere.
According to the survey conducted by Médecins Sans Frontières, released recently, 41% show symptoms of probable depression, 26% show symptoms of probable anxiety and 19% show symptoms of probable Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In this survey, women are shown to be affected in greater numbers. At least 50% of women and 37% of men have probable depression while 36% of women and 21% of men have a probable anxiety disorder. This survey translates into 1.8 million adults who are suffering from mental disorders.
Médecins Sans Frontières has been working in the field of mental health and basic health care in Kashmir since 2001 by providing counselling over the phone during times of curfews; times when Kashmiris are unable to leave their homes. The saddest part is that the most affected during conflict and wars are the children and the youth because their perception towards life can change drastically at that impressionable age. During such a scenario sports can play a crucial role in bringing a feeling of normalcy in their lives by taking their mind away from the conflicts. While a part of the state remains distressed, some youth have sought a distraction by involving themselves in sports.
And amidst these gory incidents, the media has ignored the many achievements that the state procured in the midst of this dark time. While we are busy watching only the brutality, the youth of Jammu and Kashmir have been quietly winning laurels over the world, representing India in their respective sports. As usual, the mainstream media has failed to highlight the positive activities that the youth are indulging in.
Surprisingly, Jammu and Kashmir is home to a range of sports despite its terrain. Sportspersons have found themselves a diverse range of sports to indulge in. It is not just the mainstream cricket but also other sports that are as serious and deserves us to sit up and take notice. However, we as a country and our government have similarly failed in giving them the attention and motivation they deserve. With minimal or almost no funds, Kashmir’s sports suffer as they try hard to catch the eye of the government and media.
In Ice Hockey, a smooth disk named “Puck” (hard disk of vulcanised rubber, 150-170 grammes in weight and black in colour) replaces the hard ball in normal hockey. Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir is a popular place for this sport.
Women’s Ice Hockey: Aptly named as the Cinderellas of India, this is one of the countries underdog stories which needs to be told again and again. The team made its international debut last year at the 2016 Challenge Cup of Asia in Chinese Taipei. With a lack of funding and multiple other challenges, the achievement of this team deserves more attention than anything else. After a successful crowd funding campaign done by The Logical Indian with the support of community members, where we were able to crowd fund 32 Lakhs for the team and training for just 20 days in Kyrgyzstan before the competition, they won two international games at the IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia in Thailand! This bears a testament to their capability.
Eight-year-old Tajamul Islam created history and brought laurels to her state by winning gold at the World Kickboxing Championship in Italy in 2016. And last week, 5-year-old Muhammad Suhaib from north Kashmir won a gold medal at the South Asian Karate Championships. This win has booked Suhaib a place in the world Karate championship which is to be held in Tokyo, Japan in the month of August this year.
Hashim Manzoor is a 7-year old Karate Champion and Sheikh Adnan-world Taekwondo Champion are the other players from Ali’s Sports Academy, to win the gold medal in the South Asian championship.
16 medals (5G,5S,6B) were snatched by the Indian contingent at the World Wushu Championship in 2017. 6 of the 16 medals came from J&K. These six Jammu and Kashmir players represented India in the International Wushu Championship held at Armenia in Europe that saw participation from 10 countries including India. The Indian team showcased exemplary performance in the three-day championship tournament and won 5 gold, 5 silver and 6 bronze medals. Out of these 16 medals, J&K players, who were trained by Wushu Coach, Kuldeep Handoo, won six medals.
Sqay is a South Asian form of sword-fighting originating in Kashmir, which typically involves sparring, breaking and preset routines. Competitors use a stick to simulate a sword, paired with a shield. Specifics of the regulations differ slightly between gender and age groups, such as the size of the arena or the duration of a bout.
Eight Kashmiri Sqay champions have brought laurels to the state by winning gold medals in the 6th South Asian Sqay championship recently held in Sri Lanka held May 9th, 2016
India won 30 Gold Medals and also got 1st position in the event.
Nadiya Nighat, a 21-year-old from Srinagar who is training to be a football coach at ‘Asia’s largest sports institute’, says she has fought hard to get here.Nighat is among 60 people from J&K, most of them from the Valley, who are being trained as coaches at NIS. For many of the youngsters here, this is their first time outside the Valley. The idea is that once they go back home, they will train more people in their towns and villages
Nighat is among 60 people from J&K, most of them from the Valley, who are being trained as coaches at NIS. For many of the youngsters here, this is their first time outside the Valley. The idea is that once they go back home, they will train more people in their towns and villages. Officials say the aim of the programme, which has been drawn up as part of the ‘Prime Minister’s Development Funds for J&K’, is to encourage youngsters in the Valley to take up sports. While announcing the package in November 2015, the Centre had set aside Rs 2,600 crore under the head ‘Human Resource Development, Skill Development and Sports’.
Officials say the aim of the programme, which has been drawn up as part of the ‘Prime Minister’s Development Funds for J&K’, is to encourage youngsters in the Valley to take up sports. While announcing the package in November 2015, the Centre had set aside Rs 2,600 crore under the head ‘Human Resource Development, Skill Development and Sports’.
The Minister for Forest, Environment and Ecology, Choudhary Lal Singh says the Government is aiming to create state-of-the-art infrastructure across the State for promoting various sports activities. Speaking on the concluding day of the 13th J&K State Wushu championship, the Minister addressed the Kashmiri youths saying “Sports can really take you out from your depressed state of mind. You need to be focused and fix your targets too. Our youth have enough talent. They only need a proper direction and platform to move ahead in their lives and today we feel that the sports in Kashmir
“Our youth have enough talent. They only need a proper direction and platform to move ahead in their lives and today we feel that the sports in Kashmir are taking a new curve and change is visible on the ground,” said Waheed Parra, Secretary Sports Council.
Faisal Ali, who runs Ali’s Academy free of charge has trained hundreds of children. He says even adults are welcome to train and stressed on how sports can play be a positive influence on children in conflict-hit Kashmir. “The situation in Kashmir is so bad that sports become all the more important for healthy development of these children,” he says.
Participating in a sport can be a helpful way of reducing stress levels and increasing feelings of physical and mental well-being. Sports provide physical and mental stress relief, which can help certain mental health disorders like depression and anxiety. Anxiety and depression are often triggered or exacerbated by excessive levels of stress as stated by psychotherapist Ashley Miller.
According to the Mayo Clinic, exercise can decrease mild symptoms of depression and anxiety and promote improved quality of sleep – a problem for many people suffering from mental health disorders. Participating in a group or team sport can provide a powerful medium for acquiring the stress-relieving benefits of social contact by channelling their energies away from aggression and self-destruction.
What do the Kashmiris feel about sports being a stress buster? On speaking to a prominent Kashmiri journalist on the matter of sports as a tool to distract the youth from the present scenario in the state by channelling their energies and giving them new aspirations, he disagreed on the same. Violence, limited access to education and broken family structures are more important. He is in disagreement that sports can distract anyone here from the trauma of killings and force. “Those who play sports are also Kashmiris so how can the presence of huge forces and killings not distract any sane person. It’s a political dispute registered in UN end of the discussion, nothing will bear fruit till the power corridors answer the basics aspiration of people and let them live peacefully.”
He feels the achievements of youth in sports are over celebrated and exaggerated to divert attention from the root cause (media spin). He also brought to light the recent killing of Nayeem Qadir Bhat, a first-year student in Government Degree College Handwara, who was killed in Handwara town recently in army firing. Nayeem was a cricket buff and was selected for All India level coaching camp for cricket three years ago. He had shown extraordinary performance in the state level under-19 cricket competition. A resident of Banday Mohalla, Nayeem was the first cricketer selected for under-19 cricket coaching camp from district Kupwara.
“While army and forces are promoting sports and cricket activities in Kupwara district under ‘Sadhbhavna’, at the same time they are killing youth here. Nayeem’s killing is a fresh case. He was a cricket buff. But his journey was cut short by forces,” said Waseem Ahmad, a childhood friend of Nayeem, in a statement to Greater Kashmir.
While people of Kashmir struggle every day and dream of peace, we can only hope that the youth and children of this ‘paradise on earth’ will someday be free from the chaos and trauma, and use sports as a tool to rise in life and achieve great success.