The Orwellian adage of sport being war minus the shooting holds true for cricket matches played between India and Pakistan. But the nature of the ‘war’ has been changing and the collateral damage — specific Indian players — is depressingly high. Over the years, a poor performance in these charged encounters has always attracted opprobrium from the irate fan. But the rise in polarisation in larger society has brought about a worrying transformation. Indian players from minority groups are being increasingly targeted if they happened to have an ordinary day on the field in the eyes of the modern, bigoted cricket follower. A dropped catch in last Sunday’s game against Pakistan has led to Arshdeep Singh being viciously trolled: even his Wikipedia page was vandalised to project him as a Khalistani agent. Mohammed Shami, a Muslim, has been the victim of similar sectarian abuse earlier. It is true that Mr Singh has received some support but a lot more needed to be done. For instance, the team management should have spoken up collectively and officially. A similar public outcry against this sickening witch hunt was expected from the citizenry as well.
The fact that neither has happened points to a distressing truth. Sectarian divisions have lacerated India’s body politic and, it seems, are set to get deeper. The current political dispensation can certainly claim credit for letting the hounds loose. The Bharatiya Janata Party’s political ascendancy has coincided with an astonishing assault on India’s minorities who have been vilified — be it for Covid or, now, for a missed catch. On most occasions, the political establishment has been complicit in these transgressions by remaining silent, a complicity that is shared by the ordinary Indian indifferent to the fate of ‘Others.’ The handful who have had the courage to protest against this discrimination and the withering away of secularism have been gleefully branded as ‘anti-nationals’ by the government and its supportive ecosystem that includes the media. Mr Singh’s trauma reiterates two old truths. First, the fire of majoritarianism, if it is allowed to burn, is bound to singe one and all. Second, sport serves as the mirror of life.