Of Sedition and Cricket

13 Mar, 2014    ·   4336

Shujaat Bukhari writes about Kashmiri students cheering for the Pakistani cricket team and argues that, amidst all the commotion, the larger political question of Kashmir has been left unanswered

Shujaat Bukhari
Shujaat Bukhari
Editor in Chief, Rising Kashmir

When India played against West Indies in Srinagar on October 13, 1983, I vividly remember how star batsman Sunil Gavaskar felt awkward when the spectators were carrying long posters of Imran Khan in their hands. He just waved at them and gestured by lowering his hand to tell them that he was not as tall as Imran. At that time also people in Kashmir did not cheer for India and the match was played amid chaos. Before that the pitch had been dug by a group of youth led by Shabir Shah, Showkat Bakhshi and Mushtaqul Islam, who are now in the separatist camp. In total 17 youth were charged with anti-national crime and the case was closed in the court only last year. Eventually the West Indies won the match even as it was abandoned before the required number of overs could be played.

So history of people not cheering for Indian team goes back to what generally many would prefer to call “good old days” of Kashmir, which in other words means pre-violence era. Thus whatever happened in Meerut on March 2 was nothing unexpected. Whether in Kashmir or outside, Kashmiris have made no bones about publicly exhibiting their liking for Pakistani cricket team. In lighter vein, it is often repeated that Kashmiris cannot make compromise on two things vis-a-vis Pakistan— one being cricket and other about the appearance of moon. They would only go by the Rooyat-e-Hilal Committee of Pakistan and not by any Mufti in Srinagar or Delhi.

The way the students reacted in Meerut and according to university authorities not only cheered for Pakistan and Shahid Afridi but also raised pro-Pakistan slogans, is a matter of debate and investigation. If they simply cheered, then according to Indian constitution it is not unlawful and if they resorted to sloganeering, which they strongly refute, then it is a matter of investigation. To me one thing is clear that, keeping in view the treatment Kashmiri student community has been meted out in other parts of India during past two decades, which includes denial of rented accommodation and random arrests on Republic and Independence Day, I don’t support even cheering for a team which rest of India strongly believes is of an enemy country.

However, one thing is clear that the university authorities have in first place failed to strike a chord with them. Even if they had crossed a “limit” it could have been either apprehended in advance or as a seat of learning, the university authorities should have brought them on table, counseled them and sorted out the issue. In this case the Vice Chancellor who is a retired IPS officer acted as a police officer and not as an educationist. The first blunder was to throw them out and then slapping sedition charges capped it all. It is a different matter that under tremendous public pressure those charges had to be dropped later, but it again sent a strong message to people especially the youth that tolerance is a bygone trait in India now.

Whatever happened in Meerut should not be seen in isolation. It must be understood in the larger context of deep sense of political alienation that people particularly youth have been harbouring in their minds. What happened in Srinagar in October 1983 or in 1985 when India played against Australia, also gives a lot of food for thought about the people’s likings and dislikings. But the problem with Delhi is that it has always refused to learn the lesson. What it possibly ignored in 1983 bubbled up in the form of armed rebellion in 1989. And to understand the psyche of today’s youth, even that lesson is outdated.

Today Kashmir’s youth is educated and whatever he does, like in Meerut, is with conscience and not out of any “misguidance”, as Omar Abdullah tried to make people believe. Today’s youth is born after 1989. He has seen violence, repression, depression, injustice, high handedness and discrimination. He is more alienated and at distance from Delhi than the youth who picked up gun in 1989. Social media is the best indicator for gauging mind of an angry educated Kashmiri youth.

One interesting thing has come up after the Meerut incident. Some of the students who are studying there have gone under Prime Minister’s Scholarship Scheme, which means that their study is fully funded. But even that has not helped them change their ideology. Isn’t there a bigger lesson for understanding the psyche of youth? It is ironic that Chief Minister Omar Abdullah calls them misguided when he himself said on the floor of House that Kashmir has not merged with India but acceded which means that it remains a dispute. But he continues to enjoy the power and poor young man who has the same feeling about Kashmir’s status is either slapped with sedition charges or booked under Public Safety Act. In case of Omar Abdullah and other mainstream parties who lure voters by repeating that “masla-e-Kashmir” is alive and its “hal (solution)” is necessary, the space to maneuver is free.

So the Meerut incident has again brought to the fore the larger side of mindset of the youth whether in or outside Kashmir. It is a fact that cheering for Pakistan has to be seen in the political context and it is surely different from any one who cheers for a country other than his own. Here the alienation is deep rooted and the angry youth, despite knowing that he would invite wrath for what he or she is doing has not held up his emotions or preferences. The way the Kashmiri youth, all educated and enlightened raised their banner of revolt in Delhi, when Afzal Guru was hanged in 2013, was enough to understand their political belief and the grit and determination with which they were agitating for their rights. Denial of political rights in last several decades, lack of accountability for those who have perpetuated excesses on Kashmiris and denial of justice like in the case of killing of 120 people in 2010 have compounded this anger.

Sedition charges or PSA’s have failed to break them so the lesson has again been thrown up for those who have to address the larger political question of Kashmir. Will they read that or will continue to remain “misguided” remains to be seen.

By arrangement with Rising Kashmir