Why not cheer for the Pakistani team?
Like many of you, I was deeply shocked when I heard about the U.P government’s decision to file sedition charges against 167 Kashmiri students of the Meerut-based Swami Vivekanand Subharti University for cheering for the Pakistani cricket team when it won a cricket match against the Indian team last week. As an aside, the funny thing about Article124a of the Indian Penal Code is that it talks about offenses against the ‘government’ (Whoever brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government), as opposed to the ‘state’: going by this definition, most of the political leaders should be in jail!
Most of us tend to agree that this was unquestionably unjustifiable, no question about that. There will also be an inquiry by the UP government (based on which, of course, nothing will happen) and the Kashmiri students might even be allowed back into the University campus to complete their studies. So we can be happy that we have collectively (the Omar government, human rights activists etc. etc.) defeated the nefarious designs of the U.P police and its archaic mindset. To me though, the matter does not end there for there is a deeper issue here: did the Kashmiri students who cheered for the Pakistani team, which some of them now say was not the case as they were only cheering for the spectacular Shahid Afridi and not the Pakistani team, do any wrong? Is it wrong to cheer for the Pakistani team on Indian soil when they play against the Indian team?
While there seems to be a laudable unity of opinion amongst us on the undesirability of invoking sedition laws against these students, there is no such unity on whether or not they did the right thing by cheering for the Pakistani team. What is notable in this context is that many of our pro-Kashmiri leaders and national media houses argued that is while the sedition charges were harsh and uncalled for, the students have also done something wrong by cheering for the Pakistani team, or least they have been irresponsible in their conduct during the cricket match. When simplified, this would mean that they did something wrong by cheering for Pakistan, but they should not have been punished. It is likely that many of us – including the well-meaning ones – may have instinctively said about the incident “but what the Kashmiri students did was also wrong”. For that matter, I cannot guarantee that the students in my progressive university – JNU – would not have objected to Kashmiri students cheering for Pakistan!
The J&K Chief Minister did not approve of what the students of his state did. That’s why he tweeted three days ago: “I believe what the students did was wrong & misguided but they certainly didn’t deserve to have charges of sedition slapped against them”. There you go. We must thank him for his small mercies. I also heard a prominent Kashmir woman lawyer declaring on TV that what the Kashmir students did was “irresponsible”.
But I, for one, simply fail to understand the foundational difference between the following arguments which are apparently used in a contrasting manner: “the Kashmir students engaged in some wrong doing, but they should not be punished” and “if they did something wrong they deserve to be punished?” To my mind, there is no big difference between these two arguments even though the former argument is held by a number of well-meaning and pro-Kashmir people, including the Chief Minister, and the latter being held by the more conservative amongst us.
Why shouldn’t we cheer for Pakistan?
That said, why is cheering for Pakistan irresponsible or wrong? Some argue that given the context of adversarial relations between India and Pakistan, we should not cheer for Pakistan. In other words, Indian citizens should constantly read up on the international situation and India’s relations with other countries to make sure that their appreciation for another country’s cricket/football/baseball/hockey team does not come in conflict with the nature of India’s relations with that country!
The other argument is that the majority of people watching the Indo-Pak cricket match will feel hurt if you cheer the Pakistani team. So what? And since when has majoritarianism become the basis for right and wrong in this country?
Yet another argument is that we should not cheer for the enemy nation’s cricket team because that is not a patriotic act. But then who decides what is being patriotic and what is not? In any case, the construction of patriotism is almost always undertaken in the context of a majoritarian consensus and since the majoritarian consensus in this country demands that cheering enemy nation’s cricket team is unpatriotic, it is deemed so. But I would say that the rejection of majoritarianism in a country like India is a deeply patriotic act.
Or is it because they were Kashmiris, the lesser citizens, the ones who have to prove their nationalism over and over again, that we tend to say that they did not do the right thing by cheering for the Pakistani team? In other words, would the government have dared to invoke sedition laws if a bunch of enlightened intellectuals sitting in the lawns of the India International Centre were to cheer for the Pakistani team (in the spirit of sportsmanship, of course)? I don’t think so.
(Happymon Jacob teaches at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi)