SRINAGAR: In wake of the reactions to the defeat of Team India against Pakistan in the ICC’s ongoing T20 World Cup, a lot is being written about. Here follows a few editorial comments that appeared in some major newspapers in the last few days.

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Silly point: On Linking Cricket to Patriotism
Support for the national cricket team or its players is no litmus test for patriotism
The Hindu, Chennai
October 30, 2021

People who allegedly celebrated the victory of Pakistan against India in a T20 cricket World Cup match on October 24 are facing the brunt of the state. All of them are Muslims. In Rajasthan, a young schoolteacher has been terminated by a private school and the police have charged her under IPC Section 153B for ‘imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration’. In Jammu and Kashmir, the police have registered two cases against unknown persons under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and other sections. In Uttar Pradesh, three students from J&K have been charged under IPC Sections 153A (promoting enmity between groups), 505 (creating or publishing content to promote enmity) and, later, Section 124A, sedition. The wisdom, propriety or acceptability of celebrating Pakistan’s victory is beside the point. From moral, tactical, and practical perspectives, this sweeping policing is unwise. No democracy, least of all a country of India’s size and diversity, can demand unyielding uniformity and conformity from its population, on all questions and at all times. It is unlikely that any of these charges will stand judicial scrutiny, but that only makes this spectacle a ridiculous distraction for the stretched law enforcement system. Far from enforcing national integration as the purported aim of this heavy-handed police action is, it will only brew more resentment and social disharmony apart from derailing young lives.

An unremitting loyalty test of citizens can be a self-defeating pursuit for a country like India that has global ambitions. People of Indian origin live around the world, with split loyalties. There are U.S. citizens who chant victory for India at gatherings in their home countries addressed by the Indian Prime Minister, and there are British and Australian citizens who boo their own country in favour of India during sporting events. Sports teams around the world have members of foreign origin. Infusion of toxic hyper-nationalism in sports is bad in such a world; more so for India. While the BJP has been championing this link between cricket and nationalism, other parties are not far behind as the incident in Rajasthan, a Congress-ruled State, shows. AAP in Delhi was one step ahead and questioning the Narendra Modi government for allowing the cricket match with Pakistan. Had all this been on account of an unspoken link between cheering for the national cricket team and support for a united India, the police would have also charged those who mercilessly trolled Mohammed Shami, a Muslim in the Indian cricket team. True, it would have been wonderful for the Indian cricket team to enjoy the unqualified support of the entire nation, but, surely, there is no reason to charge those who support another team with sedition. The Indian state looks silly now, and the whole episode bodes ill for cricket, and the country.

Three Kashmiri students booked under sedition charges for ‘celebrating’ Pak’s win over India in T20 Match

Ovation & Sedation: Booking Citizens For ‘Cheering for Pakistan’ Shows Disregard For the Law, Constitution
The judiciary must not turn a blind eye to this latest round of excessive and unlawful action. It needs to throw out these cases and tell the police, in no uncertain terms, why their action violates the Constitution.
The Indian Express, Delhi
October 29, 2021

In Agra, the UP police arrested three Kashmiri students in Agra, and slapped cases against four other people. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has come down even harder on this fictional crime — he has promised sedition charges.

A cricket match was fought and lost. Team India brushed off the disappointment and the defeat — as well as the inflammable mix of emotions that can overwhelm India-Pakistan cricket matches. Virat Kohli and his men walked up to the Pakistan players and congratulated them. In doing so, they refused to be turned into gladiators fighting a proxy battle of jingoism. To millions of young people watching them, they sent out important messages. That players are united on the common ground of sport, that when you have lost and are feeling lousy about it, you still congratulate the winner. That’s not just sporstmanship, that’s decency. But that’s thrown out of the window in these polarised times when the IPC is weaponised by the state at the drop of a dissenting line. So, days after Union Home Minister Amit Shah said he was reaching out to the young, the Jammu and Kashmir Police registered a case under the draconian anti-terror law, UAPA, against unknown students in two Srinagar medical colleges for “cheering for Pakistan” in the T20 match. There’s no evidence that their cheering was part of any incitement to violence. In Congress-ruled Rajasthan, the police arrested a schoolteacher for a social media post, again, ostensibly in support of the Pakistan cricket team. In Agra, the UP police arrested three Kashmiri students in Agra, and slapped cases against four other people. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has come down even harder on this fictional crime — he has promised sedition charges.

In each of these cases, the police is guilty of blatant violation of Constitutional norms and guarantees. This disturbing, absurd script has played out before. Be it in a case of sedition against a school in Karnataka for staging a play, or a 22-year-old for raising slogans, or another young woman for climate change activism. What would the men in uniform, who now appear to be in service of a thin-skinned nationalism rather than the Constitution, have made of the thriller of a Test match in Chennai in 1999, when the entire Chepauk stadium stood up to applaud the Pakistan side after it defeated India? How many cases could they have filed then? Does the faith of the audience matter? Is Pakistan the problem? Or, will applauding New Zealand be seditious too? This absurdity needs to be checked.

The judiciary has time and again laid down guidelines for the application of the colonial-era sedition law (only to see them routinely flouted) and asked the government to examine its remit. It must not turn a blind eye to this latest round of excessive and unlawful action. It needs to throw out these cases and tell the police, in no uncertain terms, why their action violates the Constitution. Locking up a citizen for cheering a rival nation during a game is a self-goal in a democracy.

A screengrab of a video showing the Kashmiri students attacked outside court.

Poisoning Sport
India-Pak cricket and the race towards medieval ideas
The Tribune, Chandigarh
October 29, 2021

How religion poisons everything — This subtitle of a book by Christopher Hitchens, the late writer famous as an atheist polemicist, seems apt for South Asia in most times. To paraphrase Hitchens, it could be said that religion is used to poison everything in the subcontinent — even sport. After Pakistan beat India in the T20 World Cup, Waqar Younis, the former fast bowler from Pakistan, said: ‘What I liked the most was what Rizwan did. Usne Hinduon ke beech mein khade ho ke namaz padhi… That was something very, very special for me.’ Younis was part of a Pakistani team that quickly embraced evangelical religiosity, and this reached absurd heights when a Pakistan player, Ahmed Shehzad, invited Sri Lanka’s Tillakaratne Dilshan to embrace Islam to escape hellfire. This invitation suggested a pre-modern bent of mind, which neatly divided souls between the ‘saved’ and the ‘damned’.

Cricket matches between India and Pakistan are so rare nowadays that they acquire rabid nationalistic — and in some cases, religious — intensity. Former Pakistan fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar passionately espouses the two-nation theory, based on pre-modern separatism rooted in tribalism and religion; it is anathema to the equalitarian ideals on which modern India was founded. In the past, slogans based on religious belief had poisoned the atmosphere in grounds in Sharjah, where religiosity and nationalism would create an ugly brew in the 1980s and 1990s.

Unfortunately, the race towards medieval ideas has been taken up by some in India as well, as reflected in comments by former cricketer Virender Sehwag regarding bursting of crackers in parts of India, ‘to celebrate Pakistan’s victory’. In Punjab, some Kashmiri students were attacked for allegedly supporting Pakistan. The trend becomes more worrisome when the government gets involved — in UP, the police have filed cases against three Kashmiri students for allegedly shouting pro-Pakistan slogans. In Srinagar, after some students of medical colleges celebrated Pakistan’s win, the J&K Police registered cases under the provisions of the anti-terror Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act against them and college managements. Such actions are disproportionate, heavy-handed and undesirable in a modern democracy. Extremist ideas must not necessarily be matched.

India captain Virat Kohli hugs Pakistan opener Rizwan after Pakistan beats India by 10 wickets in T20 World Cup at Sharjah on October 24, 2021. Pic: Twitter

Hearts and Minds
In Kashmir, the key goal for govt is to win popular support. Police action should factor this in
The Times of India, Delhi
October 27, 2021

Following India’s loss to Pakistan on Sunday’s T20 cricket match, some students in two medical colleges in Srinagar allegedly raised slogans in support of Pakistan. It led the police to register two cases against them under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. So, let us, first, make an obvious point: Pakistan’s military-jihadi complex is a threat to India, but a few people in India supporting Pakistan in cricket – especially when they played so well – isn’t. Then comes the question whether this was a spontaneous response on those students’ part or was it a result of a larger ‘plan’ or ‘plot’ to ‘instigate trouble’ in a state where trouble is never in short supply.

If it was the former, applying UAPA, a controversial and draconian law meant to deal with terror, is a clear case of over-reach. If it was the latter, careful and credible investigation needs to be done to substantiate the police’s theory. This investigation must be seen to establish that something other than supporting a cricket team was at play. Minus that, any police action will not only violate the principle of personal liberty, it will also ironically make the state’s job of winning hearts and minds in J&K even more difficult than it already is.

It is in the interest of those who wish India harm that the popular narrative in Kashmir sees the Indian state as an unfair, overbearing entity. Making jobs and government benefits a part of possible penal action feeds into this narrative. India’s firm goal in Kashmir is to integrate the Valley into mainstream, while battling every dirty trick that Pakistan’s terror planners come up with. To do that the state must not only fight terrorists but also be smart and sensitive while dealing with locals.

In Gurez, boys play cricket on snow and create an amazing game,

Sport Should Be Above Xenophobia, Religious Divide
On the pitch, India’s T20 cricket captain Virat Kohli and his Pakistani counterpart Babar Azam hugged and shared a laugh soon after Pakistan beat India comprehensively at the T20 cricket World Cup.
The New Indian Express, Chennai
October 27, 2021

On the pitch, India’s T20 cricket captain Virat Kohli and his Pakistani counterpart Babar Azam hugged and shared a laugh soon after Pakistan beat India comprehensively at the T20 cricket World Cup. The same camaraderie was on display among other players of both the teams as well. In the stadium’s stands, Indian and Pakistani fans, waving and displaying their country’s flags, posed for photographs amid banter and boisterous celebrations of the occasion.

But off the pitch, the sporting spirit was marred by the immature comments of Pakistan interior minister Sheikh Rasheed, who described his country’s win as a victory for Islam, and the online abuse of Indian fast bowler Mohammad Shami for a clearly bad day in office. Both were despicable in equal measure, the first stemming from a congenital Indophobia and the latter from an increasing atmosphere of faith-based intolerance in India. Rasheed was rightly panned for his comments, with social media users joking if India’s victories in the past were a defeat for Islam. He did not seem to get support even within his own country, underlining the overwhelming sentiment that sports and politics should remain segregated, whatever be the fractious nature of Indo-Pak relationship. The abuse of Shami, which was purely on account of his religious denomination, is another indication of the fractured nature of Indian polity.

These incidents run counter to the attempts the world over to use sports as a unifier of nations and communities. Recognising the power of sports, countries have leveraged it to break diplomatic ice, the most famous being China’s ping-pong diplomacy during the Cold War. In 1995, Nelson Mandela went to a rugby match, attended mainly by white South Africans, soon after he took over as the country’s first black President in order to send a message of racial unity. Currently, every football league in Europe runs a campaign against racial abuse called ‘No to racism’. The likes of Rasheed and the haters who abused Shami must know that sport is above xenophobia, religious divide and political borders.


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