On 24th October, the Indian police arrested several Indian Muslims for celebrating Pakistan’s victory over India in a cricket match. The story quickly gained momentum as politicians from the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party sided with the police, going as far as asking for these people to have their Indian citizenship removed.
Cricket is difficult to understand and follow for beginners due to its complex rules, but for the aficionados there are no secrets. The ICC Men’s Twenty20 World Cup in Dubai in October 2021 was an important event that many were waiting for. However, this event left a bitter taste for some Indian citizens who openly supported the Pakistani team against the Indian team in the opening match of the cup on October 24th. India was favoured but the Pakistani team won the game in a peaceful and friendly atmosphere between the players of both teams. But a cricket match between Pakistan and India is never a simple affair.
In the Indian subcontinent, cricket is a British heritage of the colonial period and it is intimately related to the history of its independence. At the very beginning, the game was reserved for British elites and Indians were not allowed to play. Later, local teams appeared, for Hindus and muslims separately. This sport became very popular for being a non-violent but somehow efficient way of defying the colonialists.
Today in India and Pakistan, both former British Colonies, the importance of cricket is still dominant. Since their independence, cricket has represented a political issue. Pakistan, a muslim country, and India, a non-muslim country with the largest muslim minority, hostilities have never ended. The heart of the conflict being Kashmir, an Indian territory where muslims are the majority, that Pakistan never stops claiming. Since 1947, these hostilities have become real wars three times, and during the relatively calm periods the cricket field becomes the battlefield where India wins most of the time. This World Cup was India’s first loss to Pakistan.
On the 24th of October, Nafeesa Attari, a Kashmiri school teacher added a photo of the Pakistani players with the note “We won” on her WhatsApp status. The parents’ of one student shared the status, and it became viral. Mrs. Attari was later arrested before being released on bail and lost her job. She is accused of “assertions prejudicial to national integration.” A group of medical students in Kashmir were charged with the same offense.
It can be argued that these recent arrests are part of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) agenda to target Muslim minorities in India. In fact, in a video that surfaced online after the arrest of the students, Vikram Randhawa (former BJP lawmaker) is seen talking about the students. He explains that they should be “skinned alive”, have their degrees removed as well as their citizenships. He is not the only one to think this way. Yogi Adityanah, chief minister of Uttar Pradesh (India’s largest state), explained to a local newspaper that he believed that any Indian who cheered for the Pakistani victory should be charged with sedition. In these troubling times one might wonder what these arrests mean for the freedom of speech in India in the upcoming years.