POLITICS

How Cricket In India Became A Deadly Litmus Test Of Loyalty After The Indo-Pak Match

The truth is always more complicated.

21/06/2017 5:17 PM IST | Updated 21/06/2017 5:18 PM IST
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Pakistan players pose with the trophy as they celebrate their win at the presentation after the ICC Champions Trophy final cricket match between India and Pakistan at The Oval in London on June

Britain's Norman Tebbit's famous cricket test for citizenship has come to virulent bloom in the age of WhatsApp forwards.

In 1990 Tebbit, a critic of liberal immigration policies, whipped up a controversy in England when he said immigrants and their children could not show loyalty to the UK until and unless they supported the English cricket team.

He famously told the Los Angeles Times: "A large proportion of Britain's Asian population fail to pass the cricket test. Which side do they cheer for?"

But even Tebbit probably could not have imagined his "cricket test" could result in sedition charges.

In Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka, police have slapped sedition charges on youths suspected of celebrating Pakistan's victory over India in the Champions Trophy final in the Oval on Sunday. 15 people in Burhanpur in Madhya Pradesh were booked under Section 124A (sedition) and 120B (criminal conspiracy). According to the police, a local resident had complained about the men bursting crackers and raising pro-Pakistan slogans to celebrate Pakistan's victory.

In Sheopur, also in Madhya Pradesh, someone has been arrested for posting "an anti-India" message on Facebook. In Hosakote village in Karnataka, four youths were arrested for chanting victory slogans and bursting crackers while riding on motorbikes and thus "trying to outrage religious feelings and create enmity." They were booked after hundreds of activists led by the VHP and the BJP protested in front of the police station.

Just as we are in the age of gau rakshaks, so we are in the age of cricket rakshaks.

Of course there is a difference from England. Tebbit was suspicious of the divided loyalties of immigrants and their children. This is about Indians in India. Now supporting any country in a cricket match is not illegal. But there's certainly an effort to make it so by these charges of sedition and communal disharmony.

Reuters Staff / Reuters

But beyond these incidents in Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka, there's something far more nefarious afoot. It's not that these incidents did not happen. But accompanying them is another phenomenon – a spate of videos on social media of "Indian Muslims celebrating Pakistan's victory in India" all circulated to whip up outrage and anger.

Just as we are in the age of gau rakshaks, so we are in the age of cricket rakshaks.

As it happens most of those videos are fake, circulated in good faith by many, but fake nonetheless. The fake news debunker SM Hoax Slayer always has its hands full after an India-Pakistan cricket match knocking down as many fake videos as it can. But it's like going after a multi-headed Hydra that spawns more heads with each forward.

In the latest episode of "Let's Play Cricket Rakshak", Sonam Mahajan who describes herself as a "politically aware Dogra Hindu" and has 79K followers, posted a video allegedly of Muslims in Vadodara celebrating Pakistan's win. According to Alt News when a page calling itself Bajrang Dal posted it, they changed it to Muslims in Delhi. But as SMHoax Slayer showed that video has been around for many months, long before Pakistan won this match.

Supporting any country in a cricket match is not illegal.

Likewise many shared a video of a roomful of Muslims supposedly celebrating Pakistan's victory in Mira Road Masjid in Mumbai. That video got 11,000 shares on the "We Support Arnab Goswami" page according to Alt News. But a closer look shows the video has the logo of PTV Sports which is not available in India. And it is available on Youtube as a Pakistani Dawoodi Bohra celebration of Pakistan's win.

Sonam Mahajan whose account was temporarily suspended by Twitter has tweeted sarcastically "According to libtards, there were no celebrations of Pakistan's ICC victory in India. Kashmir and AMU are in Europe, right?"

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That's deflecting the issue. Even if there were celebrations of Pakistan's victory in India, and there surely were, does that justify forwarding fake videos to whip up outrage?

If those youths in Karnataka and MP are accused of "trying to outrage religious feelings and create enmity", are those who mischievously send around these fake videos doing anything less?

Those who forward them might be doing so in good faith but it's also a fact that when something corresponds to our world view and reinforces our ideological bias we become lazier about checking for authenticity.

There is an assumption that if you celebrate Pakistan's win in cricket, you must also be wishing for Pakistan's victory in any war against India.

Cricket has quickly become a litmus test of loyalty and a deadly one. Just as many vigilante gau rakshaks seem more interested in who they can thrash rather than genuine welfare of the cows, the cricket rakshaks seem more interested in who they can accuse of treason and disloyalty than the actual game.

Cricket makes for great TRP and cricket with a testosterone-booster dose of patriotism is TRP gold. Several TV channels decided to run hashtags blasting the cricketers. Losing was their real failing. If they had drubbed Pakistan all would have probably been forgiven. In an era of performance patriotism, television channels do not just judge people on what they do but also what they do not do. Why did the cricket team not volunteer to donate their earnings from the match? Why did they not tweet against separatists? Or in other words, why are you not performing your patriotism the way I want you to perform your patriotism. Soon to be disinterested in cricket could be evidence of a lack of patriotism. And God help a Muslim disinterested in cricket.

This is not to pretend that no celebrations of Pakistan's victory happened in some parts of India or that Pakistan flags do not fly in some parts during these matches. And this is not to pretend either that it should not rankle, that we should not take it to heart, that we should somehow be above petty nationalism. Jingoism is noxious but there is nothing pretty either about celebrating your own country's loss at the hands of another especially a country with whom it has fought multiple wars.

But let's not pretend that those who put out those fake videos are doing it in the name of truth or nation-building. They are trying to stigmatize an entire community as a Fifth column in India. They gain political dividends when their activists gherao police stations and demand action. They are showing those who disagree with them their place. There is an assumption that if you celebrate Pakistan's win in cricket, you must also be wishing for Pakistan's victory in any war against India.

Likewise there is an assumption that if you do not agree that those who celebrated Pakistan's victory should be arrested you must be condoning them. Is it possible to have a space where you can be both discomfited by those jubilant celebrations of Pakistan's victory by those who are supposedly Indian AND at the same time not think it warrants pulling out the sedition big gun? That space is the one that is most at stake when we want the world to be starkly black or white, for us or against us.

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The truth is always more complicated.

As a friend passing through a Muslim majority area in Kolkata on his way to his barbershop noted on Facebook "Walked through a 'Muslim' area while India was losing to Pakistan. The jubilant crowds! Our nation-building is a pathetic failure!"

That caused an immediate flurry of knowing head-nods and defensive protests depending on the posters' political sympathies.

But what he also noted in that same post added another layer to the debate.

"It was interesting because this para (neighbourhood) club near this mosque was celebrating while my barbers, who are Muslims too were morose. It's all so complicated."

And that is the truth. It's more complicated than the lines in the sand we try to draw, the identity politics in which we want to confine communities.

If there was any silver lining in all this, it was a lesson in patriotism from a cricketer though not from India or Pakistan. Bangladesh's cricket captain Mashrafe Mortaza said, "I say, those who cry 'patriotism, patriotism' around cricket, if all of them for one day did not drop banana skin on the streets or did not spit on the streets or obeyed traffic rules, the country would have changed."

Indeed. But when did that kind of patriotism get either blood or the TRPs racing?

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