Conflict

The unfading military footprints in Sher-e-Kashmir Stadium

Nearly four decades after the momentous Indo-Windies clash made it the sensational sports arena, the Sher-e-Kashmir Cricket Stadium in Srinagar has now become a barrack for Indian paramilitary troops. The playfield’s militarised status quo not only mocks the state’s claims of sports revival, but also creates a ‘hostage sense’ in sportspersons.

On a regular escape trip, young Amir peddles his bicycle from the recurrently-gassed lanes of downtown to uptown Srinagar’s thespian turf. But the joyride from his hometown’s battered alleys often ends on an unsettling note at the gates of Sher-e-Kashmir Cricket Stadium.

Inside, not far from the ramshackled stands—where from his father, as a young man in early-eighties, had rooted for the Caribbeans and hooted the Blues in a historic cricket contest—the arena has come to house weary paramilitary troops now.

But while the bygone adventurism, now part of classic cricket folklore, has remained an acme of faded sports enthusiasm in his hometown, it’s a perpetual sign of uniform in the playfield that pesters Amir and his ilk a lot.

“Now when they’ve once again installed those bunkers and pickets in Srinagar and recreated the siege sense in the city, they should’ve at least left this ground alone,” Amir, a strong opinionated teenager, asserts, while preparing for a practice session.

“As a sportsperson,” the temperamental teen continues, “who wants to train in the shade of gun and gunners. It has to change for good, atleast, for sports and sportspersons. Government needs to demilitarise our spaces.”

That the soldiers have overstayed, is the general gripe among the insiders of this once-clamorous-turned-calm ground. But neither the civil nor the military administration seems eager to bring about a change.

The protracted presence of paramilitary in the playground is now leaving someone like Amir, who hits the field to groom as a sportsperson, in somewhat agitated mindset.

A paramilitary barrack inside Sher-e-Kashmir stadium. (FPK Photo/Zaid bin Shabir)

Located near Kashmir’s power street— Gupkar—the stadium named after JK’s first Prime Minister and National Conference founder Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, first hosted the military footfall, some 30 years ago.

It was in 1989 — the year when armed upheaval erupted in the valley — when the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF)’s 79 battalion was shifted from nearby Amar Singh Club to Sher-e-Kashmir Stadium.

The move was temporary, the cricket curators say, and was supposed to last till the renovation of the club.

But three-decades later, a significant and sizeable part of the stadium still remains under “illegal possession” of the paramilitary.

“What’s equally shocking is the fact that the troops haven’t paid a penny as rent till date,” says a senior official part of the governing structure of the stadium. “The pending payment is more than Rs 10 million. Imagine how the same amount could’ve flipped the entire infrastructure of the stadium!”

The state cricket wardens of Jammu and Kashmir Cricket Association (JKCA) mostly reflect on the sorry state of the stadium with somber faces and helpless tones. In their defence, they mainly talk about their inability to restore the stadium’s once ‘glorious’ status quo. The scam-infested body claims to have repeatedly raised the matter with successive state governments, to no avail.

In absence of any intervention, players and trainers are conveying a blatant ‘hostage sense’.

“It’s important for a player to have a cordial atmosphere,” says a JKCA official, “but unfortunately we don’t have that in the precinct of Sher-e-Kashmir stadium.”

After the December 8, 2014 rally of premier Narendra Modi, the stadium came to house extra CRPF deployment.

Both state as well as central police officials are justifying the paramilitary stay on the grounds of “maintaining law and order in the city”. However, the players are desperately awaiting a change.

Following Modi’s rally, infact, the CRPF has also overtaken the main entrance of the stadium and turned it into the parking lot for its troops.

The parking lot of the Stadium. (FPK Photo/Zaid bin Shabir)

“No one including the members of JKCA and players are allowed to pass from this side of the stadium,” says a cricket curator. “If government wishes to groom players and develop sports, then it’s important for them to vacate all paramilitary forces from the stadium.”

The same statement is being voiced by the players who regularly turn up at the barricaded turf for practice sessions.

“There’s no physical harassment of players inside the field,” Amir says, as he prepares himself to hit the ground, “but the military ambiance is mentally harassing. We need a stadium, not a camp, to train as sportspersons.”

 

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