The Indian cricket team suffered a defeat in the T20 World Cup after losing to Pakistan in the much anticipated cricket match on the 24th of October. India was evidently outplayed by Pakistan with 10 wickets and 13 balls to spare. While there was the usual banter and jokes from both sides around Pakistan cricket team winning, many of us also woke up to the incessantly festering Islamophobia in India. The rising hate peddled against the minorities in the country is not new to the facade of secularism put across in India. The vile comments against Indian bowler Mohammed Shami was one instance of this phenomenon. Following India’s defeat, many right-wingers took to different social media platforms to spew hate against India’s fast pace bowler Mohammed Shami, targeting him for his Muslim identity and deeming him the sole reason behind India’s defeat. The hate was followed by hollow allegations of Shami colluding with the Pakistani cricket team, accusing him of being a stooge and making repugnant demands by asking him to go back to Pakistan.
What is important to realise here is the immunity most of these people obtain after endorsing such spiteful comments. It is also crucial to ask that if we were to remove the hate-filled discourse, the jingoism, and the hyper-partisan outlook towards the “enemy”, would the proxy war like situation of a cricket field continue to sustain at a World Cup where the stakes are much higher and the questions of pride and honour surface with ferity? The recent defeat of India at the Dubai match was a big blow to the unavailing jingoism of the Hindu supremacists. Evidently, the common unpleasantness around the cricket contest, especially when it comes to Pakistan and India playing against each other, is dependent on reasons beyond the playing field. The sensational undertones of every contest between the two nations means that cricket is subsumed in narratives, political and cultural.
In such cases, the Muslims who occupy the position of a religious minority in India are coerced to comply with the jingoism of the Hindu patriots. Any aversion from the norm only targets those whose cultural and political expression does not arise from demonising the citizens of other nations. They are always set upon the fringes of being a potential “traitor” to the nation and hence even a genuine sight of a bad day on field is likely connoted as treason. Moreover, as is increasingly evident here, rght-wing trolls enjoy systemic impunity and do not face the consequences of promoting hate speech. Further, cyber bullying only accelerates the problem as it publicly visibilises the victim without their consent, while protecting the anonymity of most hate mongers. But with the arrest of three Kashmiri students in Uttar Pradesh for reportedly celebrating Pakistan’s victory, it is evident that the Islamophobia is as much a systemic problem in India.
All these spiteful tendencies and reactions are embedded in a nationalism that fails to see cricket as a metaphor of cultural intimacy, shared warmth and the joys of sharing a sport that runs deep in the consciousness of the two nations. The Hindu political regime capitalises on the historical vying of such nation-rivalry, taking various forms, one being the India-Pakistan cricket match. Another area to critically look at in the event of this particular incident is the privileged silence that the present Indian team held on to for a long time after the online abuse faced by Shami.
Despite India’s loss being a complete failure in all departments and the sheer dominance of the Pakistani side, it was only Shami who bore the brunt of the hatred. The present Indian cricket team has been silent on the issue ever since, except for captain Virat Kohli, who after quite many days, put out a statement calling out the vitriol and religion-based hate behind the abuse Shami has been receiving.
Many journalists like Barkha Dutt and others took to Twitter and questioned the Indian team for the same. The Indian team extended solidarity and took a knee for the Black Lives Matter movement at the beginning of the match, which is why the irony of not standing up for their teammate and the defined communalism that takes place within the corridors of the sports industry was not lost at all. Certainly, the Indian team has yet again exhibited its tokenist tendencies by taking a knee because the administration (headed by Amit Shah’s son Jay Shah) asked them to, while failing to question the harsh prejudices held against their own peers in India.
While there have been reports coming in on how the hate against Shami was manufactured and right-wing Internet was unfairly targetted as the reason behind the same, Kohli’s daughter received rape threats soon after he put out a statement supporting Shami. While the threats were earlier seen as coming in from Pakistani Twitter accounts, fact-checking publications found that the vile abuse came from a Telugu-speaking right-wing user by the handle name @ramanheist. This ultimately is indicative of how the hate Shami received following the match was beyond just the team performing badly.
This throws light on how most of the sportspersons who enjoy certain identity privileges are ignorant towards the larger disparity and discrimination meted out to their own teammates within the same space. Further, by enabling such abuse, Indian arena of sports becomes a less democratic and exclusionary place for religious minorities in India. This exclusion became explicit since the Pakistani players were disallowed entry in the Indian Premier League. The notion of nation pride and other sensationalism ascribed to something like cricket match signifies the ferocious warmongering that goes into aggressive flag-waving propensities of the Indian nation, making minorities the easy target of the separatism rooted therein.
Featured Image Source: India Today