‘How religion poisons everything........’
The subtitle of Christopher Hitchens’ ‘God is not Great’, 2007.
Former prolific batsman Wasim Jaffer recently stepped down as coach of the Uttarakhand state team, alleging that the Cricket Association of Uttarakhand (CAU) secretary and selectors had been ‘pushing non-deserving players’ to be selected in the team. CAU responded by dragging Jaffer’s religion into the controversy. CAU Secretary Mahim Verma made several allegations against Jaffer, the most serious of which was that Jaffer was promoting ‘religion-based selection’ in the team. He was even accused of inviting maulvis to the team’s training!
This religious segregation, nay polarisation, is now worming its way into the ‘gentleman’s game’ as well. And this is really upsetting in the ‘new’ India. In his active cricketing career of close to two decades, playing 31 Tests for India and scoring prolifically on the domestic circuit, Jaffer was never called a religiously prejudiced cricketer. But now in these changed times and climes, religion seems to have become every Indian’s identity and the bête noire of every sane and sensible individual. Today, almost every second Muslim is a fanatic and every Hindu is a religious and true nationalist.
Mind you, there’ve been very many Muslim cricketers donning the cap for India and playing for the country with excellence and a great sense of patriotism. Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, off-spinner Ghulam Ahmed (uncle of former Pakistani captain Asif Iqbal), Syed Mustafa Hassan Kirmani, Abid Ali, Abbas Ali Baig, Muhammad Azharuddin, Zaheer Khan, Irfan Pathan, Muhammad Kaif, Muhammad Shami, among others. Never did we identify these remarkable cricketers with their religion (read Islam). It was their private issue and they too never brought in their religion like today’s Pakistani cricketers, who offer namaaz on the ground and pray together in full public view. Jaffer also played without ever bringing in his Islam. And now, after playing for 20-odd years, he’s being called a religiously inclined coach who’s promoting players of his religion and also inviting religious personalities to the game. This is a serious and shameful allegation.
Years ago, cricket scribe Rajan Bala wrote: “The beauty of the Indian cricket team is its seamless accommodation of Muslim player/s and creating a sense of bonhomie and camaraderie which never allowed fanaticism to thrive.” So very true. SMH Kirmani, a devout Muslim, played in an era when his coevals were Sunil Gavaskar, Bedi, Prasanna, Venkatraghavan, Kapil Dev, BS Chandrashekhar etc. Neither his teammates, nor cricket lovers ever thought of Kirmani as being a religiously odd man out in the team. Even today, Siraj and Shami are Muslim cricketers playing for India.
Unfairly singled out
But when a respected Muslim cricketer and coach like Wasim Jaffer is falsely accused of promoting players of his religion, this further pushes the already cornered Muslims and makes them feel vulnerable. Why all of a sudden, is every Muslim being seen as a fanatic and anti-India? Just like the way the blasphemy card is played by the majority Muslims in Pakistan against the Hindu, Sikh and Christian minorities to settle old scores, here in India, the label of a fanatic or a zealot is so nonchalantly pasted on a Muslim to malign his character and besmirch his image. This is absolutely unfair.
Muslims have been living in India for centuries and their contributions to the nation-building have never been doubted. But a paradigm shift in public perceptions, especially in those of Hindu India, is being noticed of late. Muslims have been relegated to the status of second-class citizens and their patriotism is being questioned.
Cricket, which was the last bastion of secularism and India’s composite culture, is now being besmeared with religious hues and overtones. Players from the minority section are being targeted and their integrity is being debated. Except for Anil Kumble’s wholehearted support, all the bigwigs who played alongside Wasim are quizzically silent. Wasim first played for Bombay and after that, he relocated to Vidarbha.
Star players mum
Though the Vidarbha team stands by him, his Bombay teammates have chosen to keep mum. Sachin Tendulkar, Sanjay Manjrekar and Rahul Dravid have not said anything about this unpleasant episode that has tarnished Wasim’s image and shaken him. Ajinkya Rahane feigns ignorance. The BCCI hasn’t thus far issued an official statement in support of Wasim. Ganguly is also silent. Who’re they afraid of? These people can condemn foreign celebrities for poking their nose into India’s internal matters, but are sadly doing nothing to show solidarity with Wasim. This reminds one of Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s famous quote, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
We’re indeed living in intolerant times, with terribly prejudiced people. Alas, no sphere has been spared. This is indeed saddening.
The writer is an advanced research scholar of Semitic languages, civilisations and cultures.