Pakistan beat India in the T20 World Cup last week in a convincing manner. Victory and loss are a part of any sport. In any other country, the result of a sports match would have evoked some emotions in the die-hard fans of the sports and life would have gone as usual, but not in our sub-continent. The jubilation in Pakistan is as if that bankrupt country sinking in internal conflicts has suddenly shot forward to the league of developed nations after winning this match. Pakistan’s Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed claimed that his country’s victory against India was a victory of ‘Islam’, and the Muslim community from across the world, ‘including India’, wished for the Pakistan cricket team’s victory. Former Pakistan captain Waqar Younis gushed that watching Pakistan wicketkeeper-batsman Mohammad Rizwan “offer namaz in front of Hindus was very special to him.” Fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar boasted that Pakistani Punjabis are a superior and more powerful race. “We Punjabis from Pakistan are a great race. We eat, speak, and walk, in different ways,” claimed Akhtar.
The kind of jingoism exhibited by either side is sickening. It is as if the wounds of Partition are still haunting us even after seven-and-a-half decades. After the Partition, the two nations took entirely divergent paths. Pakistan chose to take the path of becoming a religious state with draconian medieval era laws. It tried to impose one religion and language, Islam and Urdu, respectively, on a diverse population. The blatant racism shown by Punjabi-dominated Pakistan towards Bengali Pakistanis and the attempt to impose Urdu as the national language ended up dividing their country into two, proving that language and culture are more potent than religion. Pakistan didn’t learn its lesson and continues to sink into the quagmire of religious fanaticism day by day. For Pakistan, a cricket match has become a holy war and a stadium, the place to exhibit one’s faith. ICC should seriously look into banning the exhibition of religious rituals like offering namaz in the sporting arena. What if the Christian players want to conduct a mass in the cricket ground? Can Hindus demand to do a Ganapati havan on the pitch, before or during the match? How about breaking coconuts for good luck before every ball? Would ICC allow that?
Pakistan behaving like spoiled brats would surprise no one. What is surprising is the childish way we have reacted to a cricket match loss. The loss didn’t end with a disappointment to be shrugged off by the next day of the match. It has spilt out communal strife, political grandstanding, hate-mongering and slapping of sedition charges. Going by the public reaction, it is as if Pakistan has invaded India, conquered us, and started marching us to gas chambers for losing a T20 match. When have we started mixing religion and sports? India’s finest players have come from all faiths and regions. Now, in a game where the finest 11 players of India played and lost, only one player is targeted for the results. His crime is that his name is Mohammed Shami. One can dismiss this as the mischief of the fringe. But how would we explain the deluge of sedition charges by the authorities? In Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Jammu and Kashmir, at least 14 people have been booked because they celebrated Pakistan’s victory. The laws and criminal provisions invoked include sedition, cyber terror, a section usually associated with instigating riots, and UAPA, the one meant for terrorists. A private school teacher lost her job for supporting Pakistan.
In January 1999, India and Pakistan played a closely contested Test in MA Chidambaram Stadium, Chennai. A few months before, both the countries had conducted nuclear tests, and a few months later, the Kargil War would start. As it often happens in sports, one team outplayed another. It happened to be Pakistan that won that Test match. And the Chennai crowd, almost 50,000 ardent cricket fans who had come to support India, gave a standing ovation to the victors as they took their victory lap. Does one wonder how many sedition charges would be filed now against that Chennai crowd? Where are we heading with our hysteric hyper-nationalism fuelled by hatred and fanaticism? That Pakistan has trodden this perilous path and has ended up in the hellhole, which is not even serving us as a warning. Our selfish politicians are leading us on the same path, and like blind devotees, we follow the pied piper to our doom. Cricket is not a medieval religious war, and cricketers are not warriors. They are just entertainers on contract with a private firm called BCCI, playing for money and advertisement revenue. That Pakistan is crazy doesn’t mean we should follow them into the same lunatic asylum.
Author of Asura, Ajaya series, Vanara and Bahubali trilogy