There is no better way of understanding Kashmir – Tehelka Magazine.
Lives After Inshallah, Football
"Ashwin I have great news to share with you !!! After long 2 years of hard work we got the sponsorship to take 7 Kashmiri youth to Brazil, include Basharat !!! They are our best players and they are in charge of our ISAT academies in the 6 districts of the valley. We will leave in November and the boys will attend a Profetional and International Football Coach Course among the brazilian federation...we will also attend SOCCEREX and Inshallah Football Ashwin !!! Hope to listen from you amigo !!!"
Inshallah no more: optimism misplaced?
This morning I had occasion to doubt the optimism about a resolution in Kashmir. I received two phone calls with bad news regarding all three main characters from my film Inshallah, football that was filmed in the valley in 2009.
Bashir Baba, an ex-militant who's story about giving up the gun and joining the mainstream is the conscience of Inshallah, football, rang to confirm his presence for a panel discussion at the Naya Cinema Festival to be held on the 23rd of July 2011. The film was refused a censor certificate based on the same Mr. Baba's descriptions of torture that he underwent at the infamous Papa 2 interrogation center in the early 90s (the censor board subsequently revised their stand, awarding it an "A" certificate.)
Three weeks ago, Mr. Baba had a forceful reminder of those terrible years.
On the 31st of May 2011, he was arbitrarily 'picked-up' at midnight from his home, and marched-out like a convict, before his wife and three sons; his house thoroughly searched, ransacked. He was detained at the local police station without charges for five days. The sudden and unprovoked interest in the activities of Bashir Baba comes after a silence of eight years - the last time he was 'picked-up' thus, was in 2003. "I was mainly asked personal questions and about my businesses. The SSP casually asked me about supplying IED in the Maulvi Shaukat Shah blast and murder case. My mall business has nothing to do with the murder case, I was picked up because I am a soft target. Because of my history" he said, over the phone from Srinagar.
Prscilla Troia, the wife of Basharat's football coach Juan Marco Troia, rang me soon after. The Troia's have nursed the dreams of Bashir Baba's son Basharat - their star footballer and captain. Dreams of becoming the first Kashmiri to play professional football in Brazil; dreams that were stymied by the Government of India's refusal to give Basharat a passport, again, due to his father's 'background'. Basharat's is the story of Inshallah, football. On Saturday 16th of July 2011, Basharat was kicked by an opponent in the eye on the soccer field, following which the team was attacked by both the spectators and the opposition. Basharat was rushed to the hospital as he was bleeding profusely, "I thought my eye was out of its socket" he says. On the next day, 17th of July 2011, the same person that attacked Basharat, attacked Marco, striking him behind the head. Earlier this year, the Troias' had to move home because their house was broken into and vandalized; both their dogs' throats were slit open and they received death threats - 'leave the valley, or else'.
Sporadic violence against Marco and his teams has increased over the past two years. "The situation is so bad that my players are at risk every-time they take the field. It can not be called football rivalry any longer." says Marco, an Argentinian, FIFA accredited football coach, who has revolutionized the game in Kashmir in the span of four short years. He has provided an alternative for Kashmiri youth to pelting stones at the police, the favorite sport of this conflict ridden state. More than two thousand boys are taught football in Marco’s International Sports Academy Trust (ISAT). His rapid success and popularity has bred detractors.
"Tomorrow if we leave, we can go back to Argentina - what about the thousands boys who have come to rely on ISAT?" says the thirty-year old coach, justifiably anguished. "Earlier, our fight was for grounds and facilities, now its about our lives - I have three little girls, and my wife. Local authorities can find out easily who is behind all of this, but nothing happens."
It took Basharat two painful years to get a passport from the Government of India - prime, vital years of a soccer player's life. The club in Brazil wont take him now because he is twenty one - too old. Meanwhile, he had dropped out of school in expectation of going to Brazil. He now goes to office with his father and plays football for ISAT.
When I choose the title for my film, it was with the hope that a time will come when Bashir will sleep peacefully at night, and hold his head high as a free citizen, free from the terror of the midnight knock. That Basharat would do his country proud on the soccer fields of Brazil, a role model for thousands of young Kashmiris and that Marco's academy a case-study in of how to offer alternatives in a state devoid of opportunities for its youth. In short, that Kashmirs would begin to enjoy the freedoms that are guaranteed to all Indian citizens under the constitution of India.
In the absurdity and futility of these small stories, it is simpler to understand why a resolution continues to evade the people of Kashmir and India.
Goa, July 2011.