Afshan Ashiq, hit the national headlines in April Last year, when photographs of her pelting stones at the J&K Police went viral. But importantly, Today, the spirited BA (Bachelors of Arts) student, who is the captain and goalkeeper of Jammu & Kashmir women’s football team, admits that she regrets the incident and her only dream is to represent India in the sport, internationally.
In an exclusive interview with Bombay Times , the feisty youngster talks about the struggles she faced to pursue football, how she found Mumbai warm and welcoming, and ‘Hope Solo’, the upcoming biopic on her.
Excerpts from interview:
Interviewer: It’s often seen that our society is conservative about girls pursuing a career in sports. Were your parents opposed to your career choice?
Afshan Ashiq: My parents had reservations initially, but I am also very ziddi. My dad loves me a lot, so after some coaxing and convincing, he gave in. See, you have to struggle to fulfill your dreams. Perhaps, I have struggled so much that it has inspired a film based on my life.
Interviewer: Why did you pursue football? Also, what prompted you to be a goalkeeper when most aspirants prefer to play forward and score goals?
Afshan Ashiq: I’ve been inclined towards sports since childhood and somewhere along the way, I started liking football more. I’ve been playing it for five years now. About being the goalkeeper, I think my coach suggested it because of my height. I believe that the goalkeeper is the backbone of the team. Sometimes, when I feel that the opposite team is dominating the game, I step ahead and play forward. At the same time, I can’t leave the goalpost for someone else to defend.
Interviewer: How did your parents react when you told them that you wanted to travel to play in other states and cities?
Afshan Ashiq: They were apprehensive, but I convinced them. After coming so far, I didn’t want to step back. They finally understood that I have to move out for better opportunities and growth.
You have said that it’s your dream to represent India internationally…
Yes, woh dream toh fulfill karna hi hai. That’s the main reason to step out of J&K, because we don’t have so many facilities like the other states. Ever since I came to Mumbai, people have warmly welcomed me and have always treated me with respect.
Interviewer: Any international player you look up to and inspires you?
Afshan Ashiq: Yes, Hope Solo, the captain and goalkeeper of the US team. I try and follow the way she trains, works out and practises.
It’s interesting that you chose to train in Mumbai over other states like West Bengal or Goa, where football is more popular…
I didn’t know the process for trials. However, since people use social media a lot, even I depended on it to see how I could grow in professional football. And then, I got a message from a club representative, saying that they were looking for a goalkeeper. I thought it was a good opportunity and took it up.
Interviewer: Talking about social media, the picture/video of you pelting stones at J&K
Police had gone viral. Today, how do you look back at that incident?
Afshan Ashiq: I won’t deny that incident being a part of my life, but when I look back, I regret it and feel that I shouldn’t have done that. I should have talked to my seniors and the authorities. Maybe, it was my mistake. Today, I want to look ahead at a future in football.
Interviewer: Post that incident, you have been quoted telling your peers to not pelt stones at men in uniform and also that those calling for the independence of Kashmir are only concerned with the land, not its people…
Afshan Ashiq: I always tell my friends that J&K is our state and we have to help it progress. When I look back at my mistake, I know it (stone pelting) isn’t a solution. I keep asking my peers to think about their career and future; it’s up to them to do the best for themselves.
Interviewer: You met Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and spoke about the lack of sporting facilities in J&K. Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti is also said to support your cause for better infrastructure in the state. Does it worry you that you’d be targeted like the young Kashmiri actress (Zaira Wasim), who later apologised on social media?
Afshan Ashiq: That doesn’t matter, baat karne wale baat karenge. I have to think about my life, family and future. We have to focus on fulfilling our dreams, instead of following others on the wrong path and ruining our lives. Now, it’s good to see the state taking interest in developing facilities. Meeting Rajnath Singhji was one of my best experiences. After listening to us patiently, he called Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti and extended support in developing sports infrastructure in the state. He gave us hope that one day, our state will produce good players.
Interviewer: How does it feel that a movie is being made on your life at 21, when you are just starting out?
Afshan Ashiq: I had come to Mumbai for football trials. One day, my cousin told me about film director Manish Harishankar wanting to meet me. Initially, I thought that my cousin was joking, but later, I met him. We discussed the film for about four months after which, he drafted the script. It feels great to have a movie being made on me.
Interviewer: Manish Harishankar was telling us how you feel strongly as an Indian and fearlessly wear the Indian jersey in Srinagar, despite the political sensitivity in Kashmir…
Afshan Ashiq: My nationality is Indian. If some people don’t agree, that is their problem. If I want to wear the Indian jersey in Kashmir, why should anyone stop me? It’s my choice, it’s up to me.
While you’ve moved on from the stone-pelting incident, the film might make it a permanent memory…
I agree, but I’m not worried. People know why I did that; I was angry then. As I said, maybe I shouldn’t have done that. Maybe I was 90 per cent wrong and 10 per cent right, but I fought for the girls and that is important.
“While I also noticed the picture of Afshan from the stone-pelting incident, it was only later when I read about her being the captain of J&K women’s football team that I thought of making a movie on her. When I met her in June and heard her story about how she wants to play for India, I felt that my decision to make a film on her was right. I feel a sense of pride to see that she has become the poster girl for the youth of J&K, and CM Mehbooba Mufti and Union Home Minister Rajnath Singhji are extending their support to help her fulfil her dream of playing for India. In keeping with Afshan’s inspiration, producer Sanjay Grover (Gulshan Grover’s son) and I have titled our film ‘Hope Solo’. Saiwyn Quadras (writer of ‘Neerja’ and ‘Mary Kom’) is writing the film, which we are making in Hindi and English.” (Courtesy: Bombay Times)