During the recent cricket World Cup finals at the Narendra Modi Stadium at Ahmedabad, a Hamas supporter invaded the pitch. He was sporting a Free Palestine T-Shirt and also wore a mask imbued with Palestinian flag colours. A month back, i.e. on October 13, in the wake of victory against Sri Lanka, Pakistani player Mohammad Rizwan dedicated his country’s victory to the Palestinians in Gaza, an euphemism for Hamas.
Namaz on Cricket Field
It was again Mohammad Rizwan who offered namaz on the cricket field during the match with the Netherlands. In the 2021 T-20 World Cup march, he did exactly the same, following which former Pakistan pace bowler, Waqar Yunus made a statement supporting Rizwan. He went to the extent of saying that Rizwan’s act of namaz midfield, in the midst of predominantly Hindu spectators, was something that he cherished as a special occasion. Rizwan by these three acts, on different cricketing platforms has underscored the the three essentials of Islam i.e. Ummah, Global Jihad, and Ghazwa-e-Hind as emphasised by his many years senior Waqar Yunus.
In fact, a decade ago, he was also coach of the Pakistani team. The fact that his ancestors were of Jat origin, and his wife is a Pakistani Australian, his hatred for Hindus and his fervour for Ghazwa-e-Hind has not flagged..These acts of Pakistani cricketers are not exceptional or isolated incidents, this is the microcosm of the fundamentalist narrative that pervades the Muslims in our subcontinent. It needs to be emphasised that more than a state and fielding a cricket team, Pakistan remains an idea, an Islamic philosophy for Muslims of the subcontinent. As long as the idea of Pakistan exists, most endeavours and contestations in the subcontinent are condemned to acquire Hindu versus Muslim narrative.
For a major part of the history of cricket in the subcontinent, the game was a sociological and communal contest. The very first match was between the Bombay Gymkhana,,comprising Europeans, and the Zorastrian Cricket Club. This was the format for 20 years. Then 1906 witnessed the emergence of another team i.e. comprising Hindus. It invited the Parsis for a match, which the latter declined owing to the vitiated communal atmosphere in the country. Communal passions ran very high because of the Partition of Bengal by the British in 1905, a seminal event that fructified the creation of Pakistan only 42 years later.
Nevertheless, the Bombay Gymkhana later condescendingly accepted the invitation by Hindus for a match. The Hindu team thrashed the European team of Bombay Gymkhana by a margin of more than 100 runs. The main architect of the victory was the spin bowler Palwankar Baloo, who by caste was a Chamar. He was a poltical activist as well. In 1910, Baloo had met BR Ambedkar. Later, the two fell out as Baloo was opposed to Ambedkar’s demand for seperate electorates. He also decried Ambedkar’s move to convert to Buddhism. In fact, he decried the very idea of Dalits leaving the Hindu fold. He considered it suicidal. Baloo was also a part of the cricket team that toured England in 1911 under the captainship of Maharaja of Patiala. His brother Palwankar Vithal captained the Hindu team in 1923. This is not just another anecdote from the history of cricket in India, but a telling commentary on the contemparenous Hindu society in the early 20th century. A Rajah had a Dalit in his team to play against the colonial masters..Later, a Dalit was captain of the Hindu team. Just as Maharishi Balmiki, Baloo and his brother Vithal were proud Hindus. They loved their motherland and the Bharatwasis loved them. In 1933, Baloo contested the Bombay Muncipal Corporation on Hindu Mahasabha ticket. It was under the Lodhi rule that the word Chamar became derogatory, and was accentuated in the British rule. The Chamars or Chanwars had kept the Lodhis unsettled by constant military harassment. Eminent historian Hameeda Khatoon maintains that before the advent of the Lodhis, the word Chamar was associated with Chanwarbansh, a Rajput dynasty, and has no association with leather. She underscores that Hindus never engaged themselves in any kind of leather work. Sant Ravi Das was the most venerated saint of the Chanwarbanshis. The Lodhis put him in prison and compelled him to do leather works. As a park of protest, and in sheer veneration, his followers followed their guru.
In recognition and deference to the martial grain of the Chamars,,the British raised the Chamar Regiment in March 1943.The regiment gave a sterling account of itself in the Battle of Kohima against the Japanese. The regiment also fought very valiantly in Imphal, Mandalay and Rangoon. Its personnel won several gallantry awards which included three Military Cross and 21 Mention in Dispatches. The regiment, however, refused to fire on Indians in Singapore. A very large number joined the Indian National Army. One of its officers, Captain Mohan Lal Kureel, was tried and jailed. The regiment was disbanded in 1946 because of its association with the INA. Thus, the regiment was not only gallant in war but it comprised men who were fierce nationalists. Post-Independence, Mohan Lal Kureel was elected as MLA in Uttar Pradesh in the first elections held in 1952.
More than a state and fielding a cricket team, Pakistan remains an idea, an Islamic philosophy for Muslims of the subcontinent
The Leftist historians of the post-Independence period suppressed the life journey of Baloo because it had the ingredients of Dalit assimilation, Dalit Hindu pride and Dalit patriotism. The dying imperative of historians, missionaries and the jihadis has been divisive themes. It is for this reason that they did not contest the derogatory use of the word Chamar. The history of the Chamar Regiment was suppressed. A fighting entity cannot be created out of men who are disparaged, denigrated and depreciated. Without social pride, soldiering is impossible. Without self pride, even quality sports is not possible.
In 1912 cricket tournament in Bombay became a quardrangular feature with the entry of the Mohammadan Gymkhana. Gandhiji was opposed to this quardrangular format of cricket. He never objected to the triangular character. In 1937 the tournament became pentangular. The fifth team comprised Buddhists,,Jews and Christians. This format continued till 1946. The Brirish, therefore, ensured that cricket in India had a communal and divisive character.
The effect of the British communal cricketing policy persists. India declared itself a secular country and yet one of its ex- captain Mohammad Azharuddin invoked the Muslim card while facing inquiry match fixing charges. A ban was imposed on him in 2000. He made a statement that he was being targeted because he was a Muslim. The ban was lifted in 2012. Subsequently, he contested the Lok Sabha elections in 2009 on Congress ticket from Moradabad and not from his home State of Telangana, then Andhra Pradesh. The choice of his constituency says it all. Moradabad is one such region in the country where the idea of Pakistan is still very strong. Did he and his party expect a Muslim backlash to his ban?
On the flip side, Danish Kaneria, one of the rare Hindu to play for Pakistan, in a recent interview, said that his teammates would invariably wake him up for the “fazr ki namaj” (morning namaz), without any concern for his Hindu faith. He was then compelled to protest. Importantly,,he said that if he were to be a Muslim he would have been appointed captain of Pak cricket team, and as a spinner would have broken all records.
Jihad in sports is not new
In 1972, eight members of a Palestinian organisation, Black September had infiltrated the Olympic complex in Munich and murdered two members and took nine hostages. They demanded the release of 234 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the release of the hostages. All the hostages were killed. The Israelis managed to catch three perpetrators. A Lufthansa flight 615 was hijacked to negotiate their release. The blackmail yielded their release. Although the narrative for the attack was built around Palestinian rights and sufferings, but in reality it was a Jihadi attack. The relegious angel was acute. Many jew sportsmen including the great swimmer Mark Spitz chose to leave. The Olympic games were halted for 34 hours. The world woke up to a new kind of terrorism. Hamas has taken a leaf out of the Munich attack.
Jihad is the main impetus to the survival of Islam, without which the 1400 year old faith could whither. That is why Jihadi terrorism has so many buyers amongst the Muslims of every pursuit, including sports.