Playing football for peace

Having braved curfews to play the game, 10 J&K boys now get a chance in Delhi.

Just to see people in Delhi walking around freely, going out in the evening and staying out till late is a wonder in itself for Mudassir Butt. Getting to play football here comes as an added incentive. The 24-year-old hails from Rainawari in downtown Srinagar, an area perpetually under strict curfew and a hotbed of stonepelting. Football, for Butt and his friends, was an escape from the daily hardships of life in a troubled region.

For the 10 Jammu and Kashmir boys, including Butt, who say they have even been beaten by police forces in Kashmir for playing football during curfew hours, the Ambedkar Stadium Slum Soccer tournament is the first time they have stepped outside their state to play a national-level event.

Initially, they had been coached by Argentinean Juan Carlos, who had set up base in Srinagar in 2007 and had organised tournaments in the state and even taken players to Sao Paulo for coaching courses. But after the Jammu and Kashmir Football Association banned Carlos from coaching, for allegedly flouting the federation's norms, the kids say that they had been without financial help and technical guidance.

After Carlos left this year, the kids have been playing at make-shift places at graveyards and unkempt grounds.

"From 2008 to 2010 there was curfew in Rainawari literally all the time. We would have to cut deals with the securities to even be out of home for one hour. We still continued playing football in by-lanes and streets and the jawans used to hear the noise and come shoo us away," Butt says.

His friend Imran Butt, also a part of the team here, got roughed up even more. Imran was kept in jail for two days in 2007 for stonepelting, for what he says was just a football outing. He has since gone to Sao Paulo with Carlos for a coaching certificate and has opened an academy on his return. He deliberately named the academy Rainawari Peace Football Academy. "I hope there will be peace someday in Srinagar inshallah for those who want to play football."

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