Parvez Rasool may not exactly qualify as the “Jackie Robinson” of India, but the cricketer has made history of sorts as the first player from the disputed Jammu & Kashmir region to be named to the Indian national team. The 24-year-old all-rounder will now be able to play in a series against Zimbabwe at the end of the month and a later series against South Africa.
However, Rasool discourages any political symbolism to his ascension to the national club. "I find it difficult to answer when people ask me questions which are political and have nothing to do with my cricket," he said, according to BBC. "It is a proud feat for me to play at the highest level of the game for India." He also told The Hindustan Times: "It is every cricketer's dream to play for the country [India] and my dream has finally come true today.”
But, given the political turmoil that has gripped Kashmir for decades, some in Indian media have speculated that Rasool’s inclusion on the national side may have been politically motivated, that is, to compel more Kashmiris to sway their loyalties to India. Omar Abdullah, the chief minister of Indian-administered Kashmir, responded negatively to that assertion, calling the accusation “insulting to Parvez and his entire lifelong effort” and also to the “people of Kashmir who don't need artificially created icons.”
Long fought over by India and Pakistan, Kashmir has suffered from an insurgency for almost 25 years at a cost of tens of thousands of lives. Despite the proliferation of cricket-mad fans in both India and Pakistan, only two international cricket matches have ever been held in Indian-administered Kashmir, which is dominated by Muslims, many of whom swear allegiance to Pakistan. One such event, in 1983, created an embarrassment when fans booed the “home” team (India) and tried to destroy the field. In fact, a local shopkeeper from Rasool’s native village of Bijbehara, lauded the cricketer, but added a caveat. "May Rasool perform well, but be on the losing side, particularly if he plays against Pakistan," a man named Tariq told BBC.
Four years ago, Rasool’s Muslim Kashmiri origins likely played a role in police searching his bags and interrogating him in Bangalore over suspicions he was linked to a terror plot outside Chinnaswamy Stadium. Police claimed they found traces of explosives in his baggage. It was revealed that he and another player only had Qurans in their possession and were later released. "I wanted to prove I am a cricketer, not a terrorist," he told Times of India.
However, the famous Indian cricketer, Kapil Dev, thinks Rasool’s membership on the national team will provide a much needed respite from Kashmir’s woes. "Kashmir has suffered a lot in the last 20 years and hopefully Rasool's story is the brighter side of things to come," he told BBC. "Players from smaller cities have been dominating Indian cricket for a decade now. Like [Indian cricket captain] Mahendra Singh Dhoni was the first from [the Bihar city of] Ranchi to play for and lead India, I hope Rasool repeats [a similar feat] for Jammu and Kashmir."
Another Indian cricketer, Bishan Singh Bedi, who served as a kind of mentor to the Jammu & Kashmir cricket team, praised Rasool and the long odds he overcame to succeed in the sport. "The cricketers there [in Jammu & Kashmir] have nothing to look forward to. There is hardly any facility and no local tournaments. To have come such a long way is phenomenal," Bedi told Times of India.
Rasool’s coach at Jammu & Kashmir, Abdul Qayoom, also put his former players’ achievement in perspective. "No news can be bigger for a coach than his ward being selected for the Indian team,” he said. “It is the happiest day of my life. Today I have accomplished my goal. The hard work we put in has paid off."
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.