This is the springtime of our discontent.
As I have mentioned before on this site, India (while still notionally secular) is morphing into a de facto Hindu theocracy, and fascism is on the rise. Like all breeds of fascism, it rests on two poles – a mythologised national identity on the one hand and a hatred of minorities on the other.
The hated minorities of the moment, of course, are the Muslims.
One of the standard accusations against Muslims is that they are, allegedly, all closet Pakistanis (I have actually heard this stated openly by an educated and apparently highly sophisticated Hindu gentleman: “Scratch a Muslim and you’ll find a Pakistani.”) And since they are all closet Pakistanis, any and all evidence which can be stretched, twisted or invented to support that idea is of course stretched, twisted etc to support it.
And one of these “proofs” of Muslims being Pakistanis is that Muslims, allegedly, cheer for Pakistan in cricket. This is something I’ve been hearing for at least twenty years now. That many Muslims have played cricket for India doesn’t matter. Muslims cheer for Pakistan. Even when they don’t.
To those who don’t know India: why cricket? Well, it’s about the only “sport” India can play well on the international level, and is heavily marketed here. Personally, I believe it’s not a sport at all, but organised criminal activity, but if I were to watch cricket I'd probably support Afghanistan.
This absurdity reached its height a couple of days ago, when Pakistan beat India* in a cricket match in Bangladesh. This match (allegedly; I do not watch cricket matches, just as I do not watch Oscar awards and similar rubbish) went through several swings of fortune until Pakistan won. Does it matter that Pakistan won? Well, to some people, it mattered a great deal.
Among these people were the students of a private university in the town of Meerut, in North India’s Uttar Pradesh state. Among those students were 67 Kashmiri Muslims who were guilty of cheering for Pakistan. (They themselves claim that they were reacting to the other students, who were hooting and taunting them while it looked like India would win the match. I can believe this completely; I have often seen Indian Hindus make it a point of celebrating loudly outside Muslim homes when India won cricket matches against Pakistan; and this was at a time when India was more secular than it is now.)
As a consequence of this grave sin, the Kashmiri students were expelled from the university (apparently at first only for three days), forced out of the hostel by police in full riot gear, and accused of sedition. Sedition, by the way, is punishable with between three years to life under Indian law.
Let that sink in for a moment. Cheering for Pakistan’s cricket team means you’re guilty of sedition against the country.
And this is supposed to be a democracy.
In order to understand the sheer scale of the idiocy of this action, I’ll have to explain something:
Kashmir, as I’m sure the reader of this is aware, is a state in contention between India and Pakistan. Since the late 1980s, an insurgency has been sputtering along in the Indian controlled part of the state. At first this insurgency was largely composed of native Kashmiri fighters, but by the mid nineties the Indian armed forces had largely either exterminated them or forced them to surrender. Since then the fighters in the state have mostly been Pakistani jihadists and mercenaries, with a sprinkling of Afghans and a few others from across the world. But there’s still a fair amount of bitterness among the Kashmiris, which explodes into the open now and then.
Now, as I said, the Kashmiri part of the insurgency was almost completely destroyed twenty years ago, and ever since then the violence levels have been dropping slowly and steadily. The old “revolutionaries” of the insurgency, those of them who are still alive, are ageing and ineffectual. The new generation, which grew up as the fighting began to abate, could, and should, have been won over by the government with a little inclusiveness and support. The Kashmiris were once staunchly pro-India, as Pakistan discovered to its cost in 1947 and again in 1965. With a little deftness, the new generation could have been made pro-India again.
Instead, what we’ve had is something so perfectly calculated to turn someone like this
into someone like this
that if it was the result of a deliberate plan they couldn’t have done better.
After an intervention by the Chief Minister of Kashmir, Omar Abdullah, the sedition charges have been dismissed, but the students are still expelled and still liable to prosecution for “promoting hatred between communities”. In other words, as far as their careers go, they’re screwed. They’ll never be able to work or study freely outside Kashmir again. Meanwhile, of course, Pakistan has grabbed the golden propaganda opportunity dropped into their laps with both hands and offered the students places in Pakistani colleges.
Of course, the implications of this go far, far beyond the immediate fate of these 67 Kashmiris. It’s proof of the way India is fast becoming a fascist society, where intolerance for any kind of dissent is rising steadily. If the Hindunazis win the next elections, due for April and May, the situation will get exponentially worse.
If cheering at a cricket match is reason enough to accuse someone of treason, where does one stop? There is an international trade fair going on right now in this city, and there are Pakistani stalls along with others. To extend the absurdity to its logical conclusion, if I went and bought something from one of those stalls, I could be held guilty of treason because I am trading with Pakistanis, paying them money which might go to support terrorism. Even talking online to Pakistanis can be made actionable.
Please do not imagine I am joking about any of this. Things are bad for those of us with common sense, and I am afraid they are going to get a great deal worse. It takes much greater effort to deradicalise a society than it takes to Nazify it, and there is no sign of anyone making the beginnings of that effort.
I don’t know whether we will see things improve again, in our lifetimes at least.
[*There’s a delicious irony in the fact that the Board for the Control of Cricket in India (BCCI), a body whose finances and internal workings are extremely murky, successfully argued in a court of law a few years ago that there’s no such thing as a national cricket team, just a team comprising Indian players who represent the BCCI. So the people turning cricket cheering into a Tebbit loyalty test are asking everyone to cheer a private club team. Eat your hearts out, Manchester United and Boca Juniors, Real Madrid and Arsenal.]