The marriage of communalism and cricket puts India’s Muslims in the crosshairs

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On Oct. 28, Indian police in the state of Uttar Pradesh arrested three Kashmiri students. Their crime was a heinous one. A crime that required the swift application of justice to rid Indian streets of a growing menace. These students’ crime was cheering for Pakistan in their match against India. 

Those bitter days live on in the memories of Pakistanis and Indians. Nowhere does it manifest more than the palpable rivalry on the cricket pitch. Both countries, effectively, stand still when they play against each other. National pride, which is often tied inextricably to religion, is on the line. And in India, the Muslim minority population is square in the sights of the Hindu majority. Woe unto them if India loses. Not that Pakistan is any better in managing their minority relations. 

There is much behind those arrests. Nationalist hatred between the two countries has existed since day one. Pakistan was torn from India in 1947, creating a separate state for Muslims. The communal violence broke out between Hindus and Muslims as the population exchange took place between the two countries. It was a time when train cars would arrive at their stations full of corpses. Millions died because of Partition.

The students from Kashmir, a Muslims majority region that is claimed by both countries, were arrested under the country’s terrorism law. For praising Pakistan’s victory over India in a WhatsApp status, the group were arrested for “promoting enmity and cyber terrorism” after a complaint from the country’s hard-right Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The BJP has been repeatedly accused of stoking divisions between Hindus and Muslims. India’s draconian anti-terror law was amended in 2019 to enable the government to label individuals as terrorists. 

Anti-Muslim riots spurned on from cricket are not unheard of either. In 2003, a riot broke out in the city of Ahmedabad after India, ironically, beat Pakistan in a match. Celebrations turned to violence as Muslims were seen, at the time, to be supporting Pakistan. Dozens were rushed to hospital. 

The Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS) says there were other instances of violence in other cities. “These instances are not sudden clashes between groups of two communities.  Cricket, as a game, is being exploited by a section of the majority, especially by the right wing groups, to make the minority community feel alienated,” says the IPCS in their report about cricket-related violence.

The report also highlights the phenomenon of Hindus deliberately antagonizing Muslims by holding processions in their areas. 

“There were protests against the fluttering of green flags, dubbed as Pakistani flags, atop houses, shops and places of worship of the minority community.  The Hindu Mahasabha objected to the fluttering of these flags and the protests turned violent. These processions and demonstrations were portrayed to give the message not only of the Indian team’s victory over the Pakistani team, but also of India over Pakistan as a nation,” the report added.

 

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