Sixteen-year-old Iqra Bano stuffs her cricket bat under her pheran as she leaves the cricket field at her school. She has a good reason. "People in the neighbourhood talk. They keep teasing me, calling me a 'tomboy'," she says. Much like the Phogat sisters who wrestle, and were the inspiration for the film Dangal, Iqra breaks gender norms to play the sport she loves.
Despite being nagged by her classmates and peers who giggle at her as she practices with male teachers on the school ground, Iqra's passion for the game has not weakened. "I can go without food but I will always show up to play. I am the happiest person when I am playing cricket," she says.
Women in sports are largely neglected in India. Even in cricket, the most popular sport in India, attention, sponsorship and advertising deals are mostly given to top-ranking male cricketers on the national team. In contrast, women's matches are often not even telecast live on TV. This neglect of the sport is even more apparent in the remote Baramulla district, Iqra’s home, which lies close to the Line of Control in northern Kashmir. One big stumbling block is the complete absence of training facilities and other kinds of state support, especially funds, for professional sportswomen.
However, Iqra is luckier than other girls in her community because she has her family's support. Her father, Ghulam Rasool Lone, runs a bakery and has supported his daughter’s ambition with his meagre earnings. Her mother, Shameema Begum, while pained at the comments that her daughter has to face, is also quick to declare that she doesn’t see any difference between boys and girls. "We have a lot of hope for her future. I’m really proud of her as she is. It’s society that is narrow-minded," says Shameema.
Community censure comes in the form of daily taunts and questions about her ability to pull off what are seen as "jobs for men" -- from playing cricket to riding scooters. "They don’t want any girl to do well and progress in life," says Iqra, whose only option is to ignore naysayers and take whatever opportunities come her way. Iqra has participated in national matches held in Goa, Amritsar, Pune and Jammu. Recently, she was also invited to the Baramullah (men’s) Premier League organised by the Rashtriya Rifles (Indian Army) and the state police. Not only was she felicitated, she was also allowed to bowl an over in which she claimed a wicket.
Iqra’s grit and determination to succeed in the face of entrenched patriarchy is inspiring. Her success would mean that other girls in her community would also have the courage to step out and pursue their dreams; a reason why she dreams of building a cricket academy some day to support more girls like her. To prevent her sporting career from being derailed, Iqra has earnestly appealed to the Jammu and Kashmir government to extend the financial support she needs and allot a coach so she can become the first Kashmiri woman cricketer of renown.
This story first appeared on newslaundry.com | Article by Madhura Chakraborty
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