Cricket’s shameful defeat exposes Hindu-Muslim divide – News Couple
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Cricket’s shameful defeat exposes Hindu-Muslim divide


After India was crushed by arch-rival Pakistan in the T20 Cricket World Cup, fast bowler Muhammad Shami was infamously discredited by angry Hindu fans who accused the team’s only Muslim player of deliberately throwing the match.

India captain Virat Kohli hit back, citing Shami’s “passion for country” and his other high-level performances for the team. Kohli declared that “attacking someone because of their religion is the most pathetic thing a man can do”, and because of this he was subjected to a torrent of abuse and threats against his young daughter.

India were one of the favorites to win the World Cup, but they struggled to make an impact on the tournament and are on the verge of elimination after losing to New Zealand in their next match.

Al Shami did not bend well against Pakistan, but neither did any of his non-Muslim teammates as they failed to take a single share in Dubai.

“The Hindu-Muslim divide is very deep in the public sphere,” said Hilal Ahmed, a professor at the New Delhi Center for the Study of Developing Societies. “If India wins, the credit goes to the Hindu players. But if India loses, the responsibility will fall to the Muslim players.”

India’s outrage over the losing cricket match isn’t limited to social media. Accused of celebrating Pakistan’s victory, many Indian Muslims – teachers, engineering students, students and staff of the Kashmir Medical College – have been fired from government jobs, expelled from their colleges and even arrested on charges of terrorism and sedition.

Students in Kolkata hold placards supporting Muhammad al-Shami after questioning his loyalty. © Dibyangshu Sarkar / AFP via Getty Images

The brutal response reflects the growing marginalization of India’s Muslim community, which routinely portrays the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) 200 million citizens as a threat to internal security.

“This indicates a paranoid nationalism that searches for enemies,” said political expert Asim Ali. “Cricket provides the acid test to prove patriotism . . . It is all about using big events to communicate the message that the loyalty of Muslims is always in question. You cannot trust Muslims to be patriots.”

Indian governments used to promote harmony between the Hindu majority and the Muslim minority, while emphasizing the country’s secular political system. But analysts said the BJP has redefined India as a primarily Hindu country, where Muslims will be tolerated if they recognize Hindu supremacy and remain within well-defined boundaries.

Most of the BJP-ruled states have criminalized interfaith marriage, citing an alleged Islamic “love jihad” plot to undermine the numerical superiority of Hindus, and restricting the trade in meat and leather, from which many Muslims derive their livelihood.

Officials pro-Hindu agenda also use colonial-era laws to harass and intimidate Muslims, often at the instigation of Hindu mobs.

This year, a Muslim comedian spent 36 days in prison after some Hindu guards excluded some of his irreverent jokes, demanding his arrest under a colonial law that makes it a crime to “deliberately offend the religious sentiments of any community”.

Few of these cases lead to criminal convictions, and the lawyers said accusations of sedition to encourage Pakistan likely won’t work. But given the slow pace of overburdened courts, prisoners awaiting trial face long prison terms and exorbitant legal fees before being released.

“It has become a norm to file criminal complaints disproportionately against Muslims whose rhetoric does not fit the narrative of Hindu supremacy,” said Karuna Nondi, an attorney for the Supreme Court. “The process that follows itself is the punishment . . . once you get into the system, it can take a long time to get bail.”

Ordinary Muslims are not the only Indians under legal pressure. The country was intrigued by the imprisonment last month of Aryan Khan, the 23-year-old son of Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan, who served as a brand ambassador in the opposition-ruled state of West Bengal.

The younger Khan was arrested on a cruise from Mumbai to Goa and accused of an international drug “plot”. No drugs were found in his possession and the main evidence cited was a WhatsApp message about him having had an “explosion”.

He was held for 25 days before being released on bail and is now awaiting trial on what many in the public consider to be trumped-up charges.

Pratap Bhanu Mehta, a prominent academic, called the case an “expansion of an empire of fear and cruelty” intended to serve as a powerful warning from the government to the Indian community. “The point is to say, ‘We can make life miserable even for Aryan Khan,'” Mehta wrote in the Indian Express.

Analysts expect religious polarization to intensify in the coming months as the BJP prepares for next year’s elections in Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state and the BJP’s stronghold.

Ali said the trial of Muslims had gained “organic” momentum, as civil servants tried to appease their BJP political chiefs in a “competitive extremism” of the state machine.

He said: “Anti-Muslim actions put you in the interest of the higher establishment.”

Ahmed, from the Center for the Study of Developing Societies, said the BJP was stoking societal tensions to distract from the economy still struggling to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The country is facing a massive economic crisis,” Ahmed said. “But in order to divert attention, we are raising issues of Hindu victimhood and Muslim injustice. You need movie stars and cricket stars to create an environment in which the economy does not become national issues.”



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