SRINAGAR: Three weeks ago, a gifted footballer from Jammu and Kashmir, Afshan Ashiq, picked up a stone for the first time in her life. A photograph that captured her hurling it in rage at policemen would go on to become the new defining image of stone pelters in the Valley.
Yesterday, the 21-year-old football coach met Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti at the Tourist Reception Centre ground where she explained her side of the story and requested the CM to ensure better infrastructure for sportspeople, especially girls.
Mehbooba was on a visit to the ground to meet specially abled children and footballers during a special camp.
"I am not feeling any guilt about what I did that fateful day. It was my reaction to the developing situation at that moment," Ashiq, who trained at the prestigious National Institute of Sports in Patiala, told PTI.
The footballer, who runs the Kashmir FC Academy, coaches 70 youngsters -- 40 girls and 30 boys -- while she pursues her bachelor's degree from Women's College at Maulana Azad road.
Her photograph, taken during a clash between students and law enforcing agencies in the heart of the city, appeared in various local and national newspapers and went viral on social networking sites.
"I along with a group of students was on my way to the TRC grounds for practice when we got caught in the clash. A policeman hurled abuses at us and even slapped one of my students which enraged me," she narrated.
"We resorted to stone pelting in self-defence and to convey a message that girls shouldn't be considered weak."
Ashiq said she was more pained as the policeman was also a Kashmiri, and a Muslim. "We did not target any CRPF or Army personnel. It was our reaction to the police high-handedness," she said.
As soon as Mehbooba accompanied by sports minister Imran Ansari entered the TRC grounds to interact with the specially-abled children and women footballers, Ashiq, like many present there, welcomed and interacted with her.
She also posed with the CM and the sports minister when they got a group photograph clicked with her team.
"I am a sportsperson and have nothing to do with anything else. I am not against the government," Ashiq said. "I leave home in the morning and return late in the evening. My busy schedule does not allow me to concentrate on anything else."
However, the young coach said she would not hesitate in picking up a stone again if she felt her students were under any sort of a threat. "I will not tolerate any harm coming their way," she said.
Ashiq said she was introduced to the chief minister as the girl who was seen in the picture pelting the police with stones.
"But I kept my head high as I have done no wrong and informed her about the circumstances leading to the incident.
The chief minister heard me and encouraged me for defending my students," she said.
Ashiq said she requested Mehbooba to consider her demand for better facilities for women to shine in the field of sports and also asked for a permanent job.
The chief minister said her government has focused on sports development as a priority area and efforts were being made to upgrade infrastructure and develop other amenities to provide better sport facilities for the state's youth.
"The talent and potential of the youth of the state have been proved time and again and it would be the endeavour of my government to give maximum opportunities to them to display their talent," Mehbooba said.