By having the former Team India captain visit Kashmir in military fatigues, Indian Army has turned the most popular sports in the subcontinent into yet another military exercise. The militarisation of sports is a dangerous trend that must be avoided, Faisul Yaseen writes.
When an English man says, “It’s not cricket,” he means, “It isn’t fair or legitimate.”
Cricket, with its traditional regard for courtesy and fair play, has been used as a metaphor since mid-19th century. It comes from the game of cricket, regarded as a gentleman’s game where fair play was considered to be of paramount importance.
The metaphor, according to which cricket is equated with upright behaviour, is even found in America. This too despite the fact that people are not even familiar with the game.
So, when India’s cricket world cup winning captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, turned up in Kashmir with his military fatigue on, cricket lovers in Kashmir had to say, “It’s not cricket.” They were not going to be taken by the Indian Army’s in-your-face propaganda.
No wonder Dhoni, who was the chief-guest of an army-sponsored cricket tournament in Kashmir valley, was greeted with ‘Boom Boom Afridi’ slogans in reference to Pakistan’s charismatic all-rounder, Shahid Khan Afridi.
When Dhoni, an honorary Lt Col in the Indian Army, visited a cricket ground at Kunzer, Tangmarg area of north Kashmir’s Baramulla district amid massive military presence, Kashmiri youth also greeted him with ‘Hum Kya Chahtay Azadi’ (We want freedom), ‘Jeeve Jeeve Pakistan’ (Long live Pakistan) and ‘Musa Musa, Zakir Musa’ slogans, referring to the 23-year-old former Hizb-ul-Mujahideen commander, Zakir Musa, who now heads the Al-Qaida linked cell, Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind, in Kashmir.
The troops deployed at the playground tried to push the youth back but to no avail as they kept raising the Pakistani all-rounder’s name. It was the answer of Kashmiri youth to the militarisation of sports.
Had Dhoni not donned the Indian Army’s camouflage trousers and jacket, the same youth would have turned to him for selfies and autographs. Theirs was a reaction to the government’s blatant militarisation of sports.
War is not a sport and in ‘The Militarization of Sports — And the Sportiness of Military Service’, William Astore succinctly puts it as: “War is not a sport; it’s not entertainment; it’s not fun. And blurring the lines between sport and war is not in the best interests of our youth, who should not be sold on military service based on stadium pageantry or team marketing, however well-intentioned it may be.”
Astore writes that there is a dangerous dynamic to it: one in which sporting events are exploited to sell military service for some while providing cheap grace for all, even as military service is sold as providing the thrill of (sporting) victory while elevating troops to the status of “heroes”.
The subtle militarisation of sports in Kashmir is not subtle anymore. Previously, the Indian Army was using the sport to reach out to the Kashmiri youth by indulging in organising various cricket leagues and tournaments for them.
This too has not yielded desired results and many times, cricket teams in these Indian Army-sponsored tournaments have been seen sporting Pakistan cricket team’s uniform, sending a clear message to the organisers that while this is not the way to “win the hearts and minds” of the population deeply bruised deeply by them with instances of tens of thousands of human rights violations at their hands.
At many events organised by the Indian Army, people are forced to stand up to the national anthem and associating a military uniform clad-Dhoni to woo Kashmir youth is no different than what the German leaders did to their own population.
Dhoni’s attendance as the chief guest of the cricket tournament in Kashmir “is a sophisticated form of brain washing, a forced diet, not of patriotism, but something far darker, far scarier.”
Sports activities have at least a 17,000-year-old history of being associated to war or war-like exercise as depicted by the paintings of animals and Paleolithic hunts in the caves at Lascaux, France where there are depictions of sprinting and wrestling.
Explaining the decisive British victory over Napoleon, the Duke of Wellington said, “The battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton.”
Today certain sports like fencing and archery represent the different versions of actual warfare practices while other sports like boxing and martial arts represent the muscle power.
By having Dhoni in military fatigues, Indian Army had turned the most popular sports played in the subcontinent as yet another military exercise.
Cricket though is not warfare. It’s cricket. And, as a character in “End Zone” says, “Warfare is warfare. We don’t need a substitute because we’ve got the real thing.”
What the Indian Army is doing isn’t cricket. It is war. War is war and the message to Kashmiri youth with Dhoni in the military uniform is that this is war, not cricket.
In the past, the Indian Army also used the former President of India, Pratibha Patil to send a similar message to the people of Kashmir when she posed for photographers while pointing a gun at them.
As DeLillo wrote, the stakes of a war are infinitely higher than those of a sports game and using visual symbols to conflate the two conspires to equate combat with spectacle.
“It helps to remove the reality of combat and push it beyond the vanishing point of our moral imagination,” he writes.
While the militarisation of cricket events may help comfort the Government of India in crisis and afford the Indian Army a recruitment tool, it encourages morally problematic coercion during wartime.
Faisul Yaseen is the Political Editor of Rising Kashmir and can be mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org