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Acquittal for 1983 pitch 'diggers'

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MUZAFFAR RAINA Published 30.11.11, 12:00 AM
(Top) Kapil Dev and Clive Lloyd, the captains of India and West Indies during the 1983 match in Srinagar

Srinagar, Nov. 29: A Srinagar court has acquitted 12 men who allegedly dug up the cricket stadium pitch 28 years ago to protest the Indian team’s presence in Kashmir.

The October 13, 1983, ODI against Clive Lloyd’s West Indies was the first international hosted at the Sher-e-Kashmir Stadium, months after India’s World Cup win in June the same year.

But from the pro-azaadi crowd’s cheering it would have seemed that Kapil Dev’s team was playing outside India. Every big hit by the West Indies batsmen was cheered as was every loss of an Indian wicket. Some in the crowd waved pictures of Pakistani players, and at least one report said that an apple was thrown at Dilip Vengsarkar.

The conduct of the spectators was criticised in the rest of the country. Cricket lovers who watched the match on television were in shock because the same Indian players had been feted elsewhere as heroes for winning the Cup.

Today, Srinagar district and sessions judge Kaneez Fatima absolved the 12 for “lack of evidence”. Two of the accused died while the trial was on.

The youths — some of whom became separatist leaders in later years — swarmed the pitch during the lunch break and tried to dig holes in the pitch. They were angry that India had hosted an international match in the “disputed region”. Before they could do too much damage, they were taken away by the police.

The incident — India was batting then — delayed the match. When it resumed, play was truncated because of bad light and a dust storm. Lloyd’s team, playing its first ODI on its tour of India that year, won by 28 runs when scores were compared after 22 overs. India had made 80, the guests 108.

The separatists count the day a milestone in their “azaadi struggle”.

At the time the pitch invasion happened, militancy was still six years away and Jammu and Kashmir was largely a peaceful state.

But this incident kept international cricket away from Kashmir for the next three years.

The second and the last time Kashmiris saw a match in their home ground was in 1986 — between India and Australia. This time, the state government put up elaborate security. After that the stadium ceased to be a venue mainly because of militancy.

Today, Shafqat Hussain, the counsel for the accused, said the 12 were acquitted as “no witness came forward for many years together”.

Showkat Bakshi, one of the acquitted, said he suffered immensely because of the case. “I was a kid then and we were simply protesting against holding the match here. I was arrested and put behind bars for four months initially and booked for waging a war against the country,” he said.

“For next six years I was continuously harassed, so much so that I picked up the gun,” said Bakshi, who became a top commander of the JKLF and spent more than 12 years in prison after his arrest in 1990.

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