Race against time: Army, police rush Kashmiri para-athlete to represent India

Kochi: It was a script that none believed will become reality — a near-impossible task of getting a young girl, Ishrat Akther, from out of one of the worst-affected terror spots in Jammu and Kashmir’s Baramulla to Chennai — and that too at the height of the restrictions imposed in the valley.

Not only was it achieved within 48 hours by personnel of the Indian Army and Jammu and Kashmir Police, but the 20-year old also got selected to represent India and all this made possible by retired defence personnel who got technology to aid prayers of the bravehearts.

Akther is paralysed from waist below. She had a fall in 2016 but despite her physical disabilities, is a very good Wheelchair Basketball player and at the end of the trip in Chennai, she was selected to represent India for the pre-Olympic qualifying tournament to be held in Thailand in October.

Akther who reached here on Sunday told IANS that everything happened very swiftly which now seems almost unbelievable.

“I had no clue how things turned out for me since August 26. When I was told I have to reach Chennai for the selection camp, I never knew it would happen. But, somehow things turned out right for me, even though I was excited, I was a bit apprehensive, as I did not know anyone who could helped me reach Chennai. But, now everything has fallen into place and am so happy that I don’t have words to express it,” said Akther.

The beauty of the whole operation was that, everything was worked out by a few old boys of the Sainik School Kazhakootam, Thiruvananthapuram — all retired defence personnel — with the key man, Col. Isenhower, who seamlessly mobile-controlled it from his home at Kothamangalam, about 100 km from here to reach the girl.

Speaking to IANS, Isenhower, said the whole operation started when retired naval captain Louis George, at present the head coach of the Indian Women Wheelchair Basketball sent a WhatsApp message on August 25 that two of the men players selected from Jammu and Kashmir haven’t reported to the team camp of Indian WCBB (Wheel Chair Basket Ball) in Chennai (August 23-27).

“He also said one woman player Ishrat Akther has also not reported (August 28-31). The Mobile communications were disrupted in the Kashmir Valley. She has to be located and sent by flight to report latest by 4 p.m. on Tuesday, August 27,” said Isenhower.

Isenhower, who had spent long years of posting in Kashmir, then used all his influence to make the operation successful in just 48 hours.

“On August 25, I sent out a WhatsApp message, with all the bits and pieces of information I had gathered in about 20 minutes and posted it to all my contacts, who could throw up some solutions.

“One Brigadier Nietzche Balan (retd), who had commanded a Brigade in that area of Kashmir, took up this issue earnestly to pursue through the Army at Srinagar, and Baramulla.

“Poonacha, my former colleague in Kashmir took it upon himself to activate the J&K Police through an SSP, Aijaz Bhatt,” recalled Isenhower.

He said around 10.45 p.m., (after 5 hours of posting the message), the first feedback was from Poonacha, who had pushed the SSP, Aijaz Bhatt, who in turn pushed the SHO of Baramulla.

“Thus the girl, Ishrat Akther was contacted at a remote village in Baramulla, with the help of the police. Then came the issue of money, as she had nothing with her and her father was also not in town.

“The next day on August 26, she got the permission to travel. On August 27, Army and J&K Police officials helped her reach Srinagar and I booked her ticket from there to Delhi and to Chennai, where she was received by George and other team members,” added Isenhower.

George told IANS, that she reached in the nick of time and she has been selected to represent India for the pre-Olympic qualifying tournament to be held in Thailand next month.

“The pre-qualifying event is very tough as there are very few spots for the qualifying event. We have a very good team and we are all hopeful, as the entire team is all pumped up,” said George.