Kashmiri students in Meerut cheered when the Pakistan cricket team defeated India in the Asia Cup, were suspended, and charged with sedition. Since then madness has prevailed with people taking sides whether the students were right or wrong and whether the charges were justified or not. Pakistan, as usual, takes the cake for stupidity – its hearts and college gates have been thrown wide open for the heroes of the resistance.
I don’t know enough about the particular incident to wade into the controversy but there are things about it that seem quite obviously wrong and problematic. What, for starters, is the notion of an own side and why, for another, is one required or obliged to cheer only for it? Why should an accident of birth dictate my emotional attachment and why should I not have the choice to own the team I want?
The notion of an own side has never made sense to me even at the best of times. I always want the better team to win, feel happy when it does, and cheer its performance when it plays to its potential. But when the team that represents my country is plagued with all sorts of other problems – favoritism, selfishness, dishonesty, an abysmal lack of common sense – I feel even less inclined to line up behind it all else notwithstanding. I am not ready to concede that a motley bunch of individuals symbolizes the nation.
I suppose some will argue that the team that wins is by definition the better one. I disagree. It might be the case in a game over five days where the flukes get evened out but certainly not in the shorter forms where even one bad umpiring decision can tip the outcome let alone the fact that an otherwise ordinary player can get lucky on a particular day.
One can see the phenomenon much more clearly in a game like hockey or football where a team, as it is said, can lose against the run of play, sometimes just on penalties. By contrast, one rarely sees that in individual sports like tennis or badminton where, in general, the better player does end up on top.
At the same time, though, I do concede that in a less than perfect world such displays of team loyalty might have benefits. If the violence that led earlier to war between tribes can be sublimated into much less harmful passions focused on one’s team, the gains are well worth the grating residual jingoism. Ideally, one would get rid of the violence that lurks beneath the breast but, needless to say, we don’t live in an ideal world and should be grateful for small mercies.
All of the above notwithstanding, this is not an apologia for the Kashmiri students. It doesn’t come across to me that they were cheering for the better team. Rather, it seems much more likely that they were indeed cheering for the Pakistani team quite irrespective of whether it was the better one or not. And that should be worrisome for it prompts the question why so many were acting in that particular manner.
It would be easy to claim that they were acting such because they were disloyal but that only pushes back the question one degree. Why did they feel the need to be disloyal if that is how it is to be framed? There must be some grievance at bottom that manifested itself in a particular gesture of protest and defiance. In that sense was the gesture any different from the infamous black salute at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico?
Later, one of the protesters had this to say: “If I win, I am American, not a black American. But if I did something bad, then they would say I am a Negro. We are black and we are proud of being black. Black America will understand what we did tonight.”
There is a profound lesson in that statement. The Kashmiri students are Indians, whether they do something admirable or something despicable. It is possible but not really sensible to laud them for their Indianness when they are well-behaved and to damn them for their Kashmiryat when they are not. That kind of attitude nurtures grievances whatever their cause.
America has come a long way since 1968 now with a black man in the White House for the second term even though much still needs to be done to remove the lingering wounds of discrimination. As many have noticed and remarked, the composition of its prison population continues to signal that the country is not quite a racial democracy.
India too has to figure out how to deal with the people at its fringes who do not yet feel fully accepted for whatever reason. Accusing them of sedition for cheering for the wrong side is to misread a signal and embark on a problematic path. In this case Indians might well want to cheer for their own team, good or bad, if, that is, they believe it is their own team.