India hosted the ODI cricket World Cup over the course of 45 days; which meant that the collective population of 1.3 billion people, here, was very busy. Most of us were busy following the games, a handful were busy playing them, and some others were spending a substantial amount of time telling everyone that cricket is just not worth it. These are all understandable and acceptable actions. What’s unacceptable is creating hostility in an already divided country – defeating the entire purpose of competitive sport, which is to unite large groups of people either through the happiness of a victory or through the sadness of a loss.
So, before India braces itself for another big sporting event, it might be important to see if we are even ready; because right now, the situation seems less than ideal. During the group-stage game between India and Pakistan, the Ahmadabad crowd started chanting ‘Jai Shree Ram’ as the opposition batter Muhammad Rizwan was making an exit after getting dismissed. Now, while I am not a fan of comparing one tragedy with another – even if the latter is hypothetical – in this case, it seems necessary. If the Indian cricket team was met with such aggressive chanting in any other part of the world today, the BCCI would have very likely boycotted the whole tournament. And rightfully so. Then why are we not treating the issue with the same sensitivity when one of us is culpable?
The answer to this question is elaborate but obvious.
We cannot let this continue. India is known for its welcoming spirit, and that is not because of the rich and the elite, it is because of common people who are willing to share what they have, even when they have very little. India is generous because of the population that works very hard, loses a hundred brutal games to life, and as a result, gets attached to its cricket team’s victories. The billionaires don’t make India generous. They frequently do the opposite.
This is where it gets tricky; because the people with power and money are doing whatever it is they want in the comfort of their high-rise penthouses. They are not chanting religious slogans in the stadiums, it is people like you and me. The every day office-goers, the hustlers who do not know when the hustle will end – and it pains me so much that this crowd, that makes our country what it is, has been radicalised to the point where the popular Indian sentiment of wanting to be a good host is losing itself to hate.
There is some solace in instances of kindness. For example, the way Hyderabad crowd cheered on the Pakistan team at the airport. That was nice to see. However, good gestures don’t cancel out the bad ones. Disrespect is still disrespect, even if you have shown love before or after. Therefore, the argument that it is an overreaction to say that we are not good hosts, loses legitimacy.
Not to mention, I have seen the extent of hostility with my own eyes. Last month, I went to watch the game between India and Afghanistan and the atmosphere at the stadium was borderline scary. My friend and I would exchange a glance every time someone screamed something offensive, and we’d think to ourselves ‘what if this went out of hand?’. It was a public place, packed with thousands of people…I shudder to think of the consequences; and in case anyone has a doubt that I might be exaggerating, here is something you’d want to watch.
Our collective attitude towards players from other countries, especially Muslim players, leaves much to be desired for. You’re not allowed to call it out, either. The moment you raise your voice against this, there is a chance that a former Indian player will sit up to talk about their mistreatment on the other side of the border. I don’t mean to dismiss their experience. I sympathise with what they went through. However, it is a different discussion. Equally serious, but different. This isn’t a tit-for-tat situation. We shouldn’t misbehave with their cricketers because one of ours was misbehaved with.
In a world already so insensitive, cricket has the power to mend, beyond what most of us can comprehend, and this power is rendered to it by who it belongs to – the followers. Hundreds and thousands of them, who, if they decided, could change, at least in their countries, the course of policies, politics and other such things that stand in between the world and the peace it keeps seeking and never finds.
Even the most reluctant of critical thinkers would find cricket to be profound because of how it works. Cricket is fun because of the crowd, cricket is simple or complex because of the crowd, and in times like these, cricket is dangerous because of the crowd. It takes on the qualities of its watcher because cricket is who it is loved by. For a thing that can become whatever one decides, what a shame that many decide for it to be a medium of hate.