728 Kashmir women play in Under-19 cricket tournament wearing hijabs and Australian T-shirts

A total of 52 teams from 10 districts played for the championship. Photo courtesy: DNA

By Ishfaq-ul-Hassan

Sep 17, 2013

Dressed in a yellow T-shirt and trousers, the batswoman attempts to hit the ball through midwicket. The wicketkeeper, wearing a hijab, has her eyes glued to the ball, lest the woman on strike misses it completely. The match is being played in scenic Kashmir, where women’s cricket has become a runway success in the last two months.

Months after Praagaash, an all-girl band, was forced to disband after the Grand Mufti issued a fatwa calling music un-Islamic, women cricketers battled all odds and organised an Under-19 tournament for the first time. From July, 728 women participated in the two-month-long event.

Though the tournament was a fitting reply to the moral police in the Valley, the women remained rooted to their culture. Several women donned the hijab during the matches. “I have been wearing the hijab as it is my identity and I feel comfortable in it,” said Sheikh Nayeema, a class XII student of Lolpora village, who represented Pulwama.

Nayeema, the daughter of a poor farmer, has six siblings. Despite the hardships, she pursued her dream. “I started playing cricket when I was a child. For two years, I have been playing for my team and it has been a great experience,” she said.

A total of 52 teams from 10 districts played for the championship, which ended in a pulsating final between Pulwama and Anantnag on Monday. Anantnag beat Pulwama by 25 runs.

“Each team had 14 players, most of them living in far-flung places. Their passion for cricket cannot be described in words,” said Gulshan Ara, tournament coordinator.

The players did not complain despite the limited number of resources at their disposal. For example, bats and gloves had to be exchanged between players because there were very few of them. Also, they had to fetch potable water in a bucket because mineral water was not available. “The teams did not even have a proper uniform. The Anantnag team wore yellow-coloured cricketing gear,” said a spectator.

Such problems did not deter the players. The sound of the bat hitting the ball or the sight of stumps flying in the air gave them unlimited joy.

(The writer is a Special Correspondent at DNA, where the above article first appeared)