Burhan Lions, Aabid Khan Qalandars and Khalid Aryans. These three local cricket teams, which played in a tournament that concluded Sunday in Tral, share more than just a love for the sport — they are all named after alleged militants.
The tournament, one of the organisers said, was held in the memory of Khalid Muzaffar Wani, brother of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani. Khalid was killed by the Army last year when he had gone to meet his brother in the forests of Pulwama, a militant stronghold. The Army had called Khalid a militant and said he died in an encounter.
The two-month-long tournament — the first of its kind in Tral, in the heart of a restive south Kashmir — saw participation from 16 teams from the town and surrounding areas. Of the 16, at least three had names inspired by militant commanders. Other teams drew inspiration from the IPL and the recently launched Pakistan Super League for names.
Burhan, the inspiration behind Burhan Lions, is known in the area as a cricket-loving boy next door and the son of a local headmaster who left home to join the Hizbul Mujahideen in 2010. He is now the most famous face of militancy in Kashmir.
Aabid Khan Qalandars is named after Hizbul militant commander Aabid Khan, who was killed in 2014 during an encounter which also claimed the life of an Army colonel.
The Khalid Aryans — named after Burhan’s brother — went on to lift the trophy on April 24, defeating the United XI of Tral.
“The tournament was organised by Khalid’s friends in his memory,” said an organiser. “This is the first time we have seen teams named after militant commanders.”
“Pro-freedom songs” were played at the opening ceremony of the tournament on February 22, while at the finals, Khalid and Burhan’s father Muzaffar Ahmad Wani was invited as the chief guest. As he handed the trophy to the Khalid Aryans, a crowd of more than 1,000 cheered at Tral’s Eidgah ground.
“This (naming teams after militants) is the new normal here,” said another organiser. “In Tral, everything has been touched by the events happening around us, and cricket is no exception.”
The tournament was scheduled to end in the second week of April but was delayed because of the shutdown in the Valley following the Handwara killings. “We had 16 teams and 31 matches,” said an organiser. “We decided not to hold a match on the day of the shutdown.”
The Jammu and Kashmir Police as well as the Army stayed away from Eidgah ground for two months to allow a “peaceful” tournament, organisers said, adding: “Initially, we had apprehensions that the police or the Army might interfere. But good sense prevailed and they stayed away.”