They say first impression is the last impression. Kashmiri footballer Afshan Ashiq learnt that the hard way as she struggles to overcome the image that thrust her into the limelight for the wrong reasons.
“I’m a goalkeeper, I just have a good throw,” she says.
Back in December 2017, Afshan’s photo had gone viral on social media and everything changed for her. “My life has not been the same after that, people know me now” – both the good and the bad.
A photo of Afshan – her face covered with a dupatta – throwing a stone at the Jammu and Kashmir police was shared wildly. She was labelled as a stone-pelter and her story became that of a ‘stone-pelter-turned footballer’.
“I was labelled as a stone pelter-turned into footballer, but I have always been a footballer, that was just one day,” she told News18.com at the Indian Women’s League, where she played for FC Kolhapur City.
“I shouted ‘why are you calling me a stone-pelter, I am not that’ and I was told ‘you threw like a professional stone-pelter’. Media made that kind of odd narrative and I was like ‘please remove that label’,” she said.
Afshan said her protest was only against the local police and not the Army. “It happened in 2017. They (police) abused us, slapped my students. If they treat us like that, what do they expect from us?” Afshan asked.
Post the incident, Afshan had to tackle the media, the Jammu and Kashmir Sports Secretary and her family – and all of them had their own set of challenges.
Since her face was covered, Afshan didn’t think people would know that it was she who threw the stones.
“After that incident, when I went for training, I thought nobody would know that it was me, but the sports secretary came and said ‘you are famous on social media now’. I was like ‘what did I do? I didn’t do anything’. He was like ‘give me five minutes, you will come to know what you did’.”
What gave her away was the dress she wore during the protest. She was still wearing that when she went for training.
“I had to accept. He said ‘I’m with you, just talk to the media and tell them the truth. Just tell them what happened’. Everybody is thinking that there is no future of sports in Kashmir and I though ‘okay, I will talk’.”
While the sports secretary was supportive, Afshan was grounded for a month after her father learnt about it.She missed out on a month of football and that left her restless during the entire period.
“After two months, my dad came to know about the incident and I was not allowed to leave home for one month. It was really bad and I used to beg to my mom and tell her that I’ll just play for half an hour and come back but she said she couldn’t do anything and I had to be at home. For one month I could not play football and it was really hard for me. Then one day I was having dinner with dad and he looked at me and said, ‘why are you crying?’ I was like ‘you ask me to sit at home, what do I do’. He then allowed me to go out and I could play again.”
Afshan is currently pursuing her playing career in Mumbai after giving her early years to coaching in her state. In the ongoing Indian Women’s League (IWL), she was sidelined with an injury.
“I’m playing in Mumbai for PIFA and I’m playing for Kolhapur here. I was playing for J&K last year and before that I played for Mumbai in the qualifier. I was coaching in Kashmir but I want to pursue my playing career right now.”
“There are 10-12 teams in the Mumbai state league and the tournament goes on for a month. Apart from this league, I play 5-a-side and 7-a-side tournaments. Then there is this Roots Premier League happening there so we play three months for that too”.
She said her coach from J&K, Satpal Singh, had asked her to sign from Kolhapur.
“I told him that I’m injured but he told me to play for experience, so I played for two games but I couldn’t after that. I want to play for India and this and the Nationals are the only ways to get selected for the national camp.”