Support for the national cricket team or its players does not imply patriotism.
People accused of celebrating Pakistan’s victory over India in a T20 cricket World Cup match on October 24 are facing the full might of the law. They are all Muslims. A young schoolteacher in Rajasthan was fired by a private school, and the police have charged her with ‘imputations, claims harmful to national cohesion’ under IPC Section 153B. The police in Jammu and Kashmir have filed two cases under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and other sections against unknown persons. Three J&K students were accused in Uttar Pradesh with IPC Sections 153A (promoting enmity between communities), 505 (producing or posting content to encourage hatred), and, later, Section 124A, sedition. It is irrelevant whether or not celebrating Pakistan’s win is wise, proper, or acceptable. This wide policing is unwise from a moral, tactical, and practical standpoint. No democracy, much alone a country the size and diversity of India, can demand unwavering consistency and compliance from its citizens at all times and on all issues. Any of these allegations are unlikely to hold up to legal examination, but it only adds to the spectacle’s absurdity as a diversion for the already overburdened law enforcement system. Far from promoting national integration, as this heavy-handed police effort purports to do, it will simply brew more hatred and social instability, not to mention endanger the lives of young people.
For a country like India with global ambitions, an unrelenting loyalty test of citizens can be counterproductive. People of Indian ancestry reside all throughout the world, divided in their allegiance. At meetings in their own nations addressed by the Indian Prime Minister, some Americans cheer triumph for India, while British and Australian citizens boo their own countries in favour of India during sporting events. Members of international sports teams can be found on teams all around the world. In such a world, the infusion of toxic hyper-nationalism into sports is terrible, especially for India. While the BJP has championed the relationship between cricket and nationalism, other parties are not far behind, as the episode in Rajasthan, a state ruled by the Congress, demonstrates. The AAP in Delhi went one step further, criticising the Modi government’s decision to allow the cricket match with Pakistan. If the authorities had charged individuals who ruthlessly ridiculed Mohammed Shami, a Muslim member of the Indian cricket team, it would have been because of an unwritten relationship between rooting for the national cricket team and support for an unified India. True, the Indian cricket team would have benefited greatly from the unequivocal backing of the entire country, but there is no reason to punish individuals who support another side with sedition. The Indian government suddenly appears bumbling, and the entire incident portends disaster for cricket and the country.
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