A few days back when India lost to West Indies in the T20 semi-finals, Kashmiris displayed their anti-India stance in full glory on social media. They heralded the West Indians as worthy allies who had inflicted the defeat. In the Valley, even the heavily surveilled historic downtown in Srinagar celebrated with late night fireworks–AFSPA or no AFSPA. Even though just a game, for Kashmiris cricket as an event is heavily infused with politics of resistance against India. The defeat of the Indian cricket team is a chronic Kashmiri desire. Cricket, in Kashmir’s popular culture has emerged as no less than a psychic battlefield where the anti-India sentiment is brandished sharp and raw; no frills. As far as my memory goes, the Indian team was never supported by Kashmiris. The few people who cheered India were seen as aberrant rather than allegiant. The desire for India’s loss, and a win for the contesting team, especially if Pakistan, is a leitmotif of Kashmir’s cricket-politics; or in simpler words a placeholder for the desire of liberation.
In 2006 the United Nations Secretary-General’s report deemed sports as a means to build peace, but the cricket matches between India and Pakistan only reinforce their relation of rivalry and one-upmanship. In this mix, Kashmir, most notably, has crafted a spectacular solidarity politics to showcase its resistance and difference with India. While Kashmiris savour India’s defeat by any country’s team, it becomes sweeter if the winner is Pakistan. Given their historic competitiveness, the Indians themselves feel the bitterness of defeat more if they lose against Pakistan. Cricket has always been indicative of contentions between India and Pakistan, with the games being the first thing to be suspended when the two become belligerent. Cricket diplomacy as policy has ceased to build confidence between the two countries and has become just another display of competing nationalisms.
As a telling feature of the rivalry during Indo-Pak matches, life comes to a standstill in both countries as well as their diasporic communities. These cricketing events rack up over a billion viewers who become unforgiving if their team loses. As for the Kashmiris, their solidarity with the teams playing against India is foremost a symbolic of their resistance. In recent history, this mode of resistance politics can be traced to 1983 when a one-day International cricket match between India and West Indies was held in Srinagar. India projected this event as putting Kashmir on the international map. Kashmiris read it as India flaunting its grip on the region. During the match the display of anti-India sentiment was intense. Every time the West Indies team score, people cheered while celebrating each Indian loss.
The West Indies team went on to win that day but not before 12 Kashmiri youth were arrested after being accused of digging the pitch to disrupt the game. Rather than being remembered as the first international cricket match to be held in the Valley, this event was immortalized for its display of anti-India sentiment–a very desirable outcome by most Kashmiri standards. In 2012, 28 long years after the game, all of the accused youth were acquitted. Shakeel Bakshi, one of the accused in the case within a few years after this incident joined the armed resistance. Cricket politics, while it never stopped in Kashmir, made national news in 2014 at Meerut University when 67 Kashmiri students cheered for Pakistan in a match with India. The show of solidarity with Pakistan earned the Kashmiri students a brief sedition charge and later they were expelled from the university.
In what seems like cricket politics coming a full circle, after the recent West Indian win about 500 non-Kashmiri students studying at the National Institute of Technology in Srinagar marched in the campus. Reportedly angered by the anti-India celebrations, these students shouted pro-India and anti-Pakistan slogans. They damaged property, roughed up their Kashmiri counterparts including a professor. Not a routine brawl over team allegiances, the violent attitude of the non-Kashmiri students reflects the potency of the resistance politics that Kashmiris have nurtured carefully in forms other than the gun. The historical and emotional closeness that Kashmiris share with Pakistan is also tactically deployed during matches to unsettle the Indian claim on Kashmir. And that the non-Kashmiri students would shout anti-Pakistan slogans in a match which was played and won by the West Indians is also telling of the Indian discomfiture.
The writing on the Kashmiri wall (or pitch) is quite clear; even cricket becomes a political tool and a mode of subversion against India. As for Kashmiri solidarity with the Pakistani team, the sentiment is rooted deep and viewing it though the singular lens of political allegiance will prove reductive. Kashmir’s solidarity with the Pakistani team has to be understood through layered historical, political, religious and cultural entanglements. Through the politics of solidarity that they display with other countries–as with the West Indians recently–the Kashmiris reinforce their difference with India; a sentiment that has only intensified since 1947. Resistance to India, be it through cricket or any other facet of Kashmiri life, is a deep-seated cultural motif and a concrete political fact.
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