A young woman cricket coach from Srinagar has crossed all the patriarchal barriers to live a dream. Abid Rashid Baba meets Sakina Akhtar to profile her persistent struggle to rise above taboos.
Thirty-one-year old Sakina Akhter, a resident of Munawarabad in Jammu and Kashmir’s summer capital, Srinagar, had never thought of turning her childhood dream into a career. Sakina is the only qualified cricket coach in Kashmir who is currently training under-19 state girls team.
“When I was a kid I was part of a boy’s cricket team in my locality,” said Sakina. Coming from a conservative family, it was difficult for Sakina to convince her parents to pursue a career as a cricket coach. But her passion for the game prompted her to cross all barriers.
“I used to play cricket with boys when I was a student. It was there that I learned the nuances of the game,” recalls Sakina. But when Sakina joined higher secondary school, she soon realized that playing cricket with boys in her locality was considered a taboo for a girl of her age. “I had to stop playing cricket with boys,” she said.
She joined her school cricket team and started participating in inter-school, district and state-level matches. In 1998, Sakina played her first under-19 cricket match at Delhi. She was declared, ‘Woman of the Series’ for her performance as the best bowler and highest runner scorer.
But after she joined Women’s College in Srinagar, she spent most of her time on cricket ground. “I used to practice alone most of the time,” remembers Sakina. She often bunked classes to spend time in perfecting her cricketing skills. “My family was supportive but they wanted me to focus on my career first,” she says.
After completing her college, Sakina went to Kashmir University for higher studies. “I opted for social sciences but I was clear about what I wanted to do with my life.” she said. Sakina quit university after completing first semester and went to Delhi to do a diploma in sports. She did Level ‘A’ coaching course from BCCI in 2009.
It was not easy for Sakina to convince her family to quit studies and pursue her passion for cricket. But she has already made up her mind. “I was the only girl from Kashmir at the academy,” she said. At the academy, there were only two girls. The rest of them were all Ranji players (males) who were practicing at the nets.
After completing the one year course, Sakina came back to Kashmir where she started working with Sports Council Kashmir (SCK). During her stint at SKC, Sakina arranged many camps for youngsters. “My first camp was at Polo Ground where around 250 boys from different schools of Kashmir valley participated,” said Sakina.
Initially, she was not content with her job. She kept applying for other jobs as well. In 2007, she got a contractual position at Kashmir University after which her appointment was confirmed. She is currently coaching both boys and girls at Kashmir University.
Masrat Nazir, one of the budding cricketers of the valley who is being coached by Sakeena at Kashmir University said she was quite happy with Sakina “Sakinaji is sober, talented and qualified coach. She teaches us very well,” Masrat says. In addition to Sakina works at the university, she has also acted as a cricket selector in Jammu and Kashmir Cricket Association.
When asked about her future plans, she replied,” I am planning to do all the three levels of coaching after which I will become a National Coach which will enable me to coach cricket enthusiasts anywhere in India.”
Sakina believes she would have taken the state team and represented it at an international level but the prevailing condition in Kashmir has discouraged her to some extent. “People don’t support girls here if they want to excel in sports. Initially when we used to go outside the state to play in national tournaments, people here used to pass lewd comments. But the scenario is changing now,” said Sakina.