Vinod Mubayi and Raza Mir


Cricket has a passionate following in South Asia. All four major countries, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and now Bangladesh have good teams and a strong base. But India-Pakistan rivalry in cricket is in a sphere of its own reflecting no doubt the larger context in which it occurs.


Still, in the ultimate analysis, it is a game; someone wins, someone loses. Over the 65 years the two countries have been playing each other, the honors may be roughly even, with Pakistan holding a slight edge, depending on which format of the game is under consideration.


In their most recent encounter, in the finals of the Champions Trophy in England, Pakistan gave a magnificent display, their bowlers, especially Mohammad Amir, demolishing the heart of the Indian batting, and their batsmen the Indian bowling. The result was unexpected since only a few days earlier in one of the opening matches of the tournament, India had beaten Pakistan quite handsomely. In any case, the players on the Indian side accepted the result cordially with their captain congratulating his counterparts on their performance.


Over the many decades of competition, the crowds in each country seemed to have become less nationalistic and have cheered good performances by the other side, especially noticeable in Pakistan in the 2004-5 series, when there was a fair amount of bonhomie between the spectators and the touring team and vice versa in India during the Pakistan team’s appearance in the World Cup in 2011. But all tours exclusively between the teams themselves have remained canceled since the terror attacks in Mumbai in Nov. 2008 and international cricket in Pakistan itself has not taken place since 2009 after the terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore.


However, there is a feeling in India mainly among the Hindutva crowd that Indian Muslims cheer for the Pakistan team whenever an India-Pakistan match occurs. How true this is in all parts of India except Kashmir is highly debatable. In the Kashmir Valley, where the majority of the population regards the Indian Army as an occupation force, this is certainly true and was manifested in widespread cheering after Pakistan won the Champions trophy.


But considering that Modi’s regime is now ruling India, a strange, or maybe not so strange, phenomenon occurred. In a remote village in the state of Madhya Pradesh, ruled by BJP, the police arrested 15 poor Muslim farmers and charged them with Section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code, a colonial era statute relating to sedition, i.e. acts tending to undermine and overthrow the legally constituted state, viz. the government of India. Their crime: celebrating the win of the Pakistan team. The evidence: they burst firecrackers, that were heard by some of their (Hindu) neighbors. Lest one think this is some insanely parodic scene in a comic movie, rest assured that it is all true. The virus then spread to Karnataka where a Congress government rules the state but whose cops seem to think along the same lines as their MP counterparts. Four Muslims were charged with sedition for cheering the Pakistan victory. This statute, which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, was used by the colonial regime against Indian nationalists. To use it against someone allegedly cheering the victory of a team in a cricket game seems almost beyond absurd. The sedition charge against the poor Muslim farmers in MP has been dropped and replaced by a lesser charge. But they still remain in jail, their crops and their lives at the mercy of the police.

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