The Politics of Cricket ˇ Some Reflections

by Lalita Ramdas

[Feb 27/28 2003]

Last evening I had a call from a journalist friend in a major English language newspaper, asking me to share my responses on the way almost warlike noises were being made in several quarters around the forthcoming cricket match between India an Pakistan ˇ for a piece they were planning to write. I asked her to send me the kinds of questions they wished to address ˇ and I am forwarding for your interest, the questions and also my answers.

The India Pakistan cricket match is being played in south Africa on sat March 1. Let me also add that today is the 28th Feb ˇ yesterday marked one year after Godhra, Gujarat, and today the `anniversaryÝ ˇ of some of the worst sectarian killings ˇ nothing short of state sponsored genocide of thousands of innocent Muslim citizens of `free, independent and secularÝ India, home to approx 135 million Muslims. Door Darshan broadcasts ˇ [which is the only channel which we in rural India are privileged to watch on our increasingly digitalized TV system] - have only focused on the `tributaryÝ events by the Shiv Sena and the VHP in Godhra and sanctimonious comments on how there should be `no more GodhrasÝ. Till this morning there was no mention of the killings that continued unchecked for days, even weeks, after Godhra ˇ and no comment to say that the country remembered and mourned them too, and this is something we never want to see again.

Instead, in the regional newspaper reports of the early morning news coverage, was a prominently displayed computer generated photograph in a Gujarati daily, of the match between India and Pakistan where our players are shown in army fatigues holding guns (Kalaskhinovs?) instead of cricket bats in their hands. Can our youth and our public that seeks instant excitement and sensationalism for a daily diet, possibly escape making the connections between Pak-India cricket ˇ war ˇ enmity ˇ and Mians ?

The next section carries the questions from the newspaper [in smaller black print], with my responses in colour.

Newspaper Editor - Here are our questions:

-- Do you feel it is important for areas like sports
to be free of political enmity? Is this possible?

LR: The answer is an emphatic yes ˇ there should be no question of `enmityÝ ˇ political or otherwise either in sports, culture, the arts and crafts, or in business, trade and commerce for that matter.
We will probably find that a large majority of Indians would share this view if they were left to form their own opinions without the nuances and interpretations to which we are subjected.

Do you feel sorry when you see the manner in which
the India-Pakistan match is being built into a `war'?
Why do you think this is happening?

LR: It is with a deep deep sense of sadness at one level, and yes, with some anger and helplessness, that one has observed over the years how we have allowed our obsession about Pakistan to vitiate almost every sphere of interaction between the two countries and peoples. When this is superimposed on our other `national obsessionÝ ˇ namely cricket ˇ the outcome is bound to be nothing short of incendiary! And it would be true to say that there is a definite undercurrent of this being `builtÝ into a war ˇ almost like the `proxyÝ war which we are constantly told about, most likely with an eye to the elections.

The answer to your second question, as to `why this is happeningÝ is less easy. Those answers have to be sought in the complex web of history, of our colonial past, of the bitterness of partition, of the shared heritage, and of our fractured and fragmented present. Above all else it is my firm conviction that leadership in post Indepedence India has to bear the primary responsibility for having been unable to educate and prepare our people to understand and accept 1947; to be able to point with pride to our being the second largest Muslim nation in the world after Indonesia; and above all else to build on the foundations of our Constitution and its deep commitment to honouring and protecting secularism, pluralism and diversity. The present party in power in this country must accept a large part of the responsibility for the present atmosphere of heightened suspicion bordering on hatred, of both Pakistan, and by extension through having created a highly inflammatory set of connections, with the Muslim in India today.
To my mind there is no disputing the fact that the roots of this lie in the dangerous ideology of Hindutva, Hindu Rashtra, and the two nation theory as propounded by the founders of the RSS long before Independence. And across the border in Pakistan there is a similar mind set together with an understandable fear, bordering on paranoia with respect to India and our intentions, which permeates into the very fibre of their being. Finally, media on both sides plays into these fears and paranoias instead of allaying them.
I remember the piece you did for us on the fleet
parade. Why did you feel that having involved Pakistan
would have been an important gesture?

LR: Yes, I was happy that your newspaper saw fit to carry it ˇ although there were many angry reactions to my plea that PakistanÝs Navy should have been invited to participate in the International Fleet Review! Involving Pakistan together with the host of neighbourhood navies would have sent out a very positive signal that even though there are deep seated, one can say intractable, political differences, we are still ready to engage with each other as professionals, especially in the armed forces. The Indian Navy advertised the event far and wide as `Building Bridges of FriendshipÝ ˇ and it would have been in keeping with the well known philosophy of those who sail the seas and who view the sea as their common home and one that unites those whom it touches. Imagine what it would have done to gain us worldwide acclaim for displaying a high level of maturity! Even at the height of the cold war, the Russians and Americans kept meeting and talking. It is utter foolishness on the part of our leadership to refuse to dialogue with Pakistan. If anything, this mantra of "we shall not talk until Cross Border terrorism ends" has now become an irritant in the comity of nations ˇ be it within SAARC or NAM or various other bi and multi-lateral forums.

-- Why do you feel it is so important for people in
India and Pakistan to interract?

LR: Generations of Indians and Pakistanis have grown up without knowing anything about each other ˇ people who share a thousand years of history, not to mention linguistic, cultural, religious and other ties. This has done incalculable damage ˇ especially to young people who have no historical memory of a pre-partition era, and whose images of each other have relied solely on the biased projections of their leaders, text books and media. When people start meeting and getting to know each other, the myths and stereotypes gradually get clarified and relationships begin to develop. The realization will soon dawn that there are more things that we have in common than those that divide us, and once people have a stake in building peace and friendship, there is little that governments can do to sustain prolonged hostility. Millions of decent, ordinary families found themselves separated geographically and politically in 1947, but emotional bonds have not been wiped away. It is time that leaders on both sides understood this. In the context of the dignity, security and wellbeing of the 12% Indian Muslims who live in the geographic entity that is India ˇ this is critical.
The constant taunt that they are more loyal to Pakistan, and are secretly all `PakistanisÝ at heart, is totally undeserved as it is mischievous. Loyalty to country and patriotism is not the preserve of Hindus alone!

-- Are people-to-people initiatives becoming more
difficult? What are the increasing obstacles that you
are noticing?

Sad but true ˇ yes it is becoming increasingly more difficult to sustain and strengthen the several people-to-people initiatives that exist in both countries. The march of events ever since 9/11 2001 has inexorably worsened the environment. Events in our own backyard ˇ be it the attack on Parliament, or the eye-ball to eye-ball confrontation on the borders between two nuclearised armies, all of these have collectively contributed to the present impasse and created more and more obstacles in the way maintaining contact. There is no direct means of communication between us [Pakistan and India] any more ˇ no Dosti Bus, no Samjhauta Express ˇ no flights. Those who can afford it have to pay a vast amount to come and go via Dubai ˇ the bulk of citizens can no longer visit each other for Id, for a workshop, for a peace march, or for a shaadi or a funeral. Our diplomatic missions are reduced to a formality. Officially at the highest levels our leaders refuse to acknowledge each other - be it at SAARC or NAM or other similar forums. And on the ground, the simple folks are those who suffer. Militants and terrorists are not waiting for visas and official permissions to cross over for their nefarious purposes! Politically let us talk, identify and deal with the issues which give rise to militancy and terrorism; at the same time liberalise contact, travel, communication without adding to the war psychosis all round.

There seems to be a feeling that it is wrong to be
playing cricket with or interacting with Pakistanis
when "they are killing our boys at the border". As
somebody with a services background, how would you
respond to this overwhelming belief?

As someone who has grown up in the armed forces ˇ being daughter and wife of Naval men ˇ both of whom who reached the highest rank in the service, I should possibly have had every reason to react in the way you describe above. Fortunately I grew up in an environment where we were taught to respect human beings and their dignity regardless of their nationality or creed ˇ and although we were aware that `PakistanÝ was a difficult neighbour, that did not mean that you treated them for ever as the sworn enemies. Over the years one has been able to separate the `peopleÝ from `the stateÝ ˇ whether it is India, Pakistan or the USA today ˇ where even as their president tramples on all forms of domestic protest, the voices of people in their millions are speaking up for peace and against waging war on IRAQ.

If they are killing `our boysÝ, let us not forget that we too are killing or have killed `their boysÝ. We need to remember the courage and the love that spoke through women like the mother of an officer killed in Kargil when the body of her son was brought home to Kerala ˇ just praying that no more young men ˇ Indian or Pakistani ˇshould have to die in vain; or the widow of Daniel Pearl ˇ who did not see that seeking revenge would solve the problem of terrorism; or all those families of the victims of 9/11 who have called for peace and not attacks on innocent Arabs and Muslims.

We need to play cricket together ˇ and in each othersÝ countries ˇ and remember what the sporting spirit is all about , not see it as `warÝ - a fight to the finish; we need to sing and dance together at youth camps, jamborees and training programmes; we need to send Shahrukh Khan and Amir Khan across the border; and we need to bring their best singers and qawaals across here. TV and Newspapers need to talk about all the good things that are also happening on both sides ˇ like the children coming for heart or kidney transplants to Bangalore from Pakistan, or youth exchanges where young Pakistani and Indian boys and girls have become friends for life Í Í.and , and Íand. And it is only then as people begin to rediscover the joys of being good neighbours at peace with themselves and each other again, that they will themselves begin to reject the politics of hate and divisiveness which is what keeps both politicians and the armament industry in business!

You had asked for short answers ˇ once before I had told you that if we really want answers and to explore the truth about Indo-Pak relations ˇ it cannot come through one liners!

But I know you will do a good job in getting to the sense of this, despite having to wield the inevitable editorial axe.

Goodluck


Lalita from Bhaimala Village, Alibag

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