Insha's passion for cricket was backed by her professor and college authorities (Representational)
Her hijab firmly in place, she slings her bat across her shoulders and rides her scooty to college and practice, challenging not just her rivals on the cricket field but also societal and religious stereotypes. As captain of the women's cricket team in Baramulla's Government Women's College, Insha is one of the young women setting trends in this suburban town in north Kashmir and in the Valley.
"I want to stay independent without any fear," says the 21-year-old fourth-semester student who successfully led her team to win this year's inter-university cricket championship in the Valley last week.
Her words -- taken from the title track of Aamir Khan's talk show 'Satyamev Jayate' - are echoed by others who walk the tightrope between tradition and passion, playing cricket even if it means doing so with their hijabs, a scarf covering the head and neck. Some even play with the burqa.
Like Rabya, a first-year student, an all-rounder who manages to bat, bowl and field with the burqa when she's in Baramulla. When she plays in Srinagar, she opts for the hijab. "I cannot go against the wishes of my teachers at Darasgah (religious school)," said Ms Rabya.
The all-rounder on the team, the daughter of a labourer, is from the old town of Baramulla. Ms Insha, too, wore her burqa when she first started playing, but the society in which she lives did not take it well and often taunted her. An undeterred Ms Insha now wears a hijab and confidently drives her scooty to college with her bat.
"The journey has not been smooth. When I walked in my tracks with a cricket bat, people would complain to my father. My family was supportive," says Ms Insha, a multi-talented sportsperson who has represented the Jammu and Kashmir women teams in not just cricket but also volleyball.
Her passion for cricket was spotted by her Urdu professor and was backed by college authorities who levelled a small ground for cricket practice. "I was amazed by Insha's performance and wanted her to do something in the field. However, lack of infrastructure in our college and the absence of any clear-cut policy on sports were stumbling blocks," said Rehmat-ullah Mir, who attributes his broad-minded thinking to his education in Hyderabad from where he completed his PhD in Urdu.
"A campaign on social media was started with the hope of getting some help, but the comments from the male-dominated society were discouraging. Then, with the help of the college principal, we decided to form a team and compete within the university," he added.
Building a team was a herculean task. Two physical trainers of the college -- Gurdeep Singh and Showkat Ahmed -- helped train women students. Ms Insha, who had played at the national level, helped with additional inputs on warm-up exercises.
Insha's father Bashir Ahmed Mir, who runs a fruit business in Baramulla, said he is proud of his daughter and hopes she will continue with cricket. "I don't care about what people say and would rather focus on what my daughter wants... All I wanted her to do is pursue her dream. I am thankful to her coaches Gurdeep Saheb and Showkat Ahmed for training her well. Cricket is only a game but they have developed in her a fighting spirit," he added.