We Lost Much More Than a Cricket Match on Sunday Night

Sometime around June, my wife and I went to check out an upcoming housing project in suburban Kolkata being developed by a renowned builder as we were looking for a larger apartment. After explaining the USPs of the project and taking us around the site, the smartly dressed marketing manager offered us a cup of coffee in his swanky office and said reassuringly, “We are only entertaining cultured and educated clients. And strictly no Muslims.”

It took me less than half a second to decide that I had no further business there. As my wife and I exchanged glances and left his office without a single word, I noticed that the other family that was waiting for its turn to speak to the manager also got up from the sofa and left the office ahead of us, past a life-size idol of Lord Ganesha decorated with multicoloured Chinese lamps.

Outside the gate, as I was unlocking my car, I noticed the family again. They too were getting into their vehicle. An elderly lady, possibly the mother of either the man or the woman, sat inside the car in her hijab.

This was not the Uttar Pradesh of today. This was not post-Godhra Gujarat. This was not any BJP-ruled state. This was a state where the government is ‘guilty’ of ‘minority appeasement’. This was Kolkata, 2021, barely a month after the Trinamool Congress’ thumping victory in the state polls. I hung my head in shame; I felt like apologising to them, but as is our wont, I slipped into the insulated air-conditioned comfort of my car with its windows rolled up and ‘moved on’.

Later that evening, I asked myself, even if I did, on whose behalf should I have apologised to the young couple looking to set up a home? Yes, maybe on behalf of the marketing guy who was possibly obeying the instructions of his boss.

But, could I have apologised on behalf of the prime minister of our sovereign socialist secular democratic republic who had made a statement that those who were indulging in anti-CAA protests “can be identified by their clothes”? Could I have apologised on behalf of everyone in this country who held Muslims responsible for the spread of COVID-19 last year and looked the other way when the Kumbh Mela became a super-spreader in 2021? Could I have apologised on behalf of the Indian home minister who called Bangladeshi immigrants “termites”? Could I have apologised on behalf of my ‘friends’ who spew venom every day against Muslims on WhatsApp groups? Could I have apologised to them on behalf of the entire system which allows right-wing zealots openly vilifying Muslim and calling for genocides to go scot-free in this country?

Exactly how many apologies did I, as an upper-caste Hindu, owe that Muslim family in the India of 2021? I wondered.

The incident came back to my mind as I learnt about widespread outrage on social media and some public discourse over a section of Indian Muslims reportedly celebrating Pakistan’s thumping victory over Team India on Sunday night in the T20 Cricket World Cup. It is learnt that the Kashmir Police has charged some local students under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) for raising anti-India slogans and celebrating Pakistan’s win. In Rajasthan, a school teacher was expelled from her job because she expressed joy at Pakistan’s win.

Also read: When Political Yogis Take the Knee, They Reveal the Perverse Politics of Indian Cricket

For starters, who you support in a game is entirely your personal choice. I remember being at the Eden Gardens during an ODI between India and South Africa where a capacity crowd of around one lakh people supported South Africa because Sourav Ganguly had just been dropped from the team. Every time Graeme Smith drove Zaheer Khan to the boundary, the cheer was deafening. An exasperated Greg Chappell had infamously shown the middle finger to fans outside the stadium while leaving the ground after a thumping defeat.

Were those spectators being anti-India or anti-nationals?

The question that we really need to ask is: Why do Indian Muslims feel more and more alienated in this country with each passing day? If the incident that I narrated was happening in Kolkata, imagine the plight of a common Muslim man in Faizabad or Gorakhpur today. Can we, the majority in this country, even imagine how nightmarish it is for Indian Muslims to live in this country under a government that pampers right-wing zealots – like the young MP from Bengaluru?

For Indian Muslims, daily abuse, attacks, lynchings, hate speeches and open calls for murders have been normalised. Every day, they have been made to feel like second-class citizens in this country, if at all. “The idea was that if you were a Muslim, you were liable to be attacked anywhere, anytime,” says Ghazala Jamil, an assistant professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University. And if that alienation has resulted in the reported celebrations on Sunday night, who is to be blamed for that?

Sports is a mighty leveller. Cricket in India was no exception. Even in the height of communal tension in India during the early 1990s, Mohammad Azharuddin was never dragged into the mudslinging. The sublime art of his wristy flicks was enjoyed by cricket lovers from Kashmir to Kanyakumari cutting across religious lines, as much as Sachin’s straight drives were.

If one goes further back, it was under a Muslim captain, the Nawab of Pataudi, that India (yes, you can’t ignore that synecdoche) started earning respect on foreign shores. Was the romanticism around the Afghan-born Salim Durrani in the 60s and 70s dependent on religious lines? Did the crowd that agitated in Bombay upon his non-selection with ‘No Durrani, No Test’ placards comprise only Muslims? Did the Khans and Pathans and Kaifs ever feel uneasy in Sourav’s Team India when they played Pakistan?

All that is history now. Something has snapped somewhere. The attacks Mohammad Shami has faced since Sunday night, the silence of the BCCI and his teammates and the punitive action that has been initiated against minority students ‘celebrating’ Pakistan’s victory tell us that we lost much more than a cricket match on Sunday night. We lost our national identity, the sine qua non of which was unity in diversity.

Indradeep Bhattacharyya is an independent journalist based in Kolkata and a regular contributor to The Wire

Featured image credit: Mohammad Shami in action Reuters/Hamad I Mohammed