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Dreams Are Curfew-Proof: Jasia Akhtar, Kashmir’s Sole Representative at WPL 2023

WPL 2023: Delhi Capitals' 34-year-old batter, Jasia Akhtar is establishing Kashmir's identity in women's cricket.

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In Shopian, a far-flung district in south Kashmir, approximately a two-hour drive from the summer capital, Srinagar, there will be an internet shutdown till 7:30pm this Sunday, 26 March.

This, however, is not directed by an organisation, and neither one that will end up exacerbating the internet shutdown statistics of the state. So, approximately 3.5 lakh inhabitants will be participating in a digital detox workshop of Brobdingnagian proportions? No, not that either.

This, far from all of it, will be self-imposed – an entirely voluntary operation. But why?

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Some two thousand kilometres away, Delhi Capitals will be competing for the inaugural Women’s Premier League (WPL) title, in Mumbai’s Brabourne Stadium. And representing Delhi will be Jasia Akhtar – a 34-year-old batter, who is the solitary player from Jammu & Kashmir in this competition.

“Sab apne apne GB (gigabytes) save karke rakhte hain, taaki match dekh sake. Delhi Capitals ka match miss koi bhi miss nahin karta (everyone is saving their daily internet quota during the Delhi Capitals' matchdays. No one's ready to miss a DC game), Jasia informs during an exclusive conversation with The Quint, explaining how, on the qui vive of saving enough data for the match, people are giving up on internet usage during DC’s matches.

Jasia has not played a match yet. Reaching this level after tackling myriad impediments is an achievement nonpareil in itself, and we will talk about her journey, extensively. Beyond that, however, it remains an objective verity that Jasia has not played a match so far, and understandably, might not feature in the final.

WPL 2023: Delhi Capitals' 34-year-old batter, Jasia Akhtar is establishing Kashmir's identity in women's cricket.

Jasia Akhtar is representing Delhi Capitals in the WPL.

(Photo: Delhi Capitals)

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Low on Amenities, High on Desire

Yet, she is hopeful, just like everyone in Shopian is. For those who have spent days, months and years in curfews, seen the once-famously-called ‘forest of snow’ turning to a hue that is not white, the only readily available escape was dreaming. They are dreaming now, and will continue to do so, irrespective of whether she makes the playing XI.

“South Kashmir, where I come from, has experienced consistent curfews since 2008. I could not step out of my house, and even when I did, there was no ground to play in,” informs Jasia, reminiscing about her childhood in the valley.

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Barring 'forest of snow, Shopian is also referred to as the ‘apple town,’ with the fruit being the district's major source of income. The seeds of cricket was sown exactly where those of the apples were, owing to the scarcity of grounds.

WPL 2023: Delhi Capitals' 34-year-old batter, Jasia Akhtar is establishing Kashmir's identity in women's cricket.

Jasia Akhtar explained her formative days in the sport.

(Photo: Instagram/akhterjasia, altered by The Quint)

“There were no cricket grounds in my locality. No one had seen a leather ball, or a proper cricket bat. We used to carve out bats from logs, use the tennis or plastic balls, whatever was available, and play in the farms once the farmers were done with their day’s work. Girtey they, uthtey they, aur aagey badhte rahein,” the batter says.

My journey has been extremely difficult. I didn’t have the basic requirements to play the game – bats, shoes, pads, you name it. Though, I had fallen in love with the sport and consoled myself by saying ‘Jo nahin hain wo nahin hai, koi baat nahin.
Jasia Akhtar, Delhi Capitals cricketer
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The Decision To Quit

Youth brings ebullience, which can help one push limits amid limitations aplenty, as it did for Jasia. Eventually, though, it succumbs to the harsh realisation that maturity brings – that the dreams were a smokescreen. Jasia, for all of her determination, was not an exception, as she decided to quit the sport.

WPL 2023: Delhi Capitals' 34-year-old batter, Jasia Akhtar is establishing Kashmir's identity in women's cricket.

Amid financial struggles and lack of opportunities, Jasia had decided to quit cricket.

(Photo: Instagram/akhterjasia, altered by The Quint)

“There was this lack of infrastructure and proper pathway on one hand, but to make matters worse, I also had to deal with financial hardships. Travelling to Srinagar from Shopian cost me Rs 150 on a daily basis, my father did not even earn that much in a day. Ek baar aisa laga ki sab kuch waste hi ho gaya hai, tab maine khelna hi chhod diya,” she says.

She would not have picked the bat again, those in Shopian would not have had to worry about how to spread their daily internet usage, and this article would not have been written, had it not been for the intransigence of two individuals, at a time when Jasia had lost all resolve.
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Firstly – her physical education teacher.

I decided to pursue an academic career, but my physical education teacher came to my place one day and asked for an explanation for my decision. I told him that there is no future in cricket, and it simply is not a viable option to chase, given the financial situation of my family. He persuaded me to get back into the game, and helped me out with cricketing gear.
Jasia Akhtar, Delhi Capitals cricketer
WPL 2023: Delhi Capitals' 34-year-old batter, Jasia Akhtar is establishing Kashmir's identity in women's cricket.

The neighbours were not initially fond of a girl playing cricket.

(Photo: Instagram/akhterjasia, altered by The Quint)

Secondly, and most importantly – her father, Gull Mohammad Wani.

She explains "Not only did my father help out financially, but also had to deal with our anachronistic societal mindset. Our neighbours used to come and say ‘cricket to ladkiyon ka game hi nahin hai, apni ladki ko padhao aur ghar me bithao.’ My father used to reply ‘Aap hamein mat samjhaiye. Hamari beti hai, humein pata hai.'"

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A Decade-Long Fight

In 2012, Jasia marked her return to the 22 yards. A year later, she left for Punjab, to rub shoulders with the superstars. The valley’s daughter was now representing the nation’s granary, in domestic competitions.

WPL 2023: Delhi Capitals' 34-year-old batter, Jasia Akhtar is establishing Kashmir's identity in women's cricket.

Jasia is unwilling to stop chasing after her dreams.

(Photo: Instagram/akhterjasia, altered by The Quint)

However, to have realms restricted to domestic cricket for the entirety of a decade, could elicit frustration.

‘Did you ever consider quitting again?’ we asked.

“No, I chose not to give up on my aims. When I left Shopian, I vowed that I will not return to Jammu & Kashmir with unrealised dreams. Not for once did I think about what I am lacking in terms of cricketing equipment. Not for once did I desire to buy branded clothes, as others did,” she replied.

Here again, she credited her father, by mentioning “But more than my determination, my father’s desire has propelled me to this stage. He didn’t receive any education, but I tell him he is one in a million for us.”

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WPL Contract Is a Recognition of Dedication

The WPL contract will pay her Rs 20 lakh, which certainly is a gargantuan financial boost. But more than that, Jasia wants it to be apprehended as the reward for her decade-long dedication.

This WPL contract is a product of my sheer dedication for eleven years. When I used to travel to Punjab from Shopian, I barely would have a thousand rupees in my pocket. During tours, I would have to rely on whatever my parents have packed for me, since food from restaurants was a luxury I couldn’t think of affording.
Jasia Akhtar, Delhi Capitals cricketer
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The Kashmir Files Dreams...

Now that she has made the headlines, stepped on the bigger pedestal, and experienced fame, she is aiming to realise a couple of more dreams – one pertaining to her state, and the other being personal.

"The girls in the region had absolutely no future during my childhood,” she says, ‘had’ being the keyword, as she quickly follows with “When they see me playing, they say ‘hum bhi aapki tarah wahan tak pahuchna chahtein hai.’ But we desperately need academies there – there is absolutely nothing."

I have requested the government authorities to open coaching camps on multiple occasions, but the requests fell on deaf ears. Main dua karta hu hi kaash kisiko daya aay aur wo ek academy banaye, to wahan ka cricket bhi aagey badh sakta hain.
Jasia Akhtar, Delhi Capitals cricketer
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...And The Personal Dreams

What about your personal dream?

“It is more my father’s dream than mine. The dream of seeing her daughter in the Indian colour. Despite having nothing, all he ever wanted was for his kids to shine, and earn the society's respect. I pledge not to stop before that happens,” Jasia concludes.

Sixteen years ago, American band Aerosmith enthralled Indians with a riveting rendition of their popular track, ‘Dream On,' performing barely a couple of miles away from where the WPL 2023 final will be staged. Gull Mohammad Wani and Jasia Akhtar might not have been in the audience, but they comprehended the message more than anyone else. 

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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