The Meerut police’s decision to file criminal charges against 67 Kashmiri students for cheering the Pakistani cricket team raises serious questions that have not been properly addressed. Those questions, in turn, reveal disturbing aspects about the police, our society, and the young Kashmiris.
Although the police dropped sedition charges, were they unaware that as far back as 1962 the Supreme Court read down Section 124 of the Penal Code to only apply in situations where violence is threatened against the State and not simply because something critical, even if it amounts to disaffection, has been said? Over 50 years later the police have no excuse for this ignorance. Second, cheering the Pakistani cricket cream cannot be construed as disaffection, leave aside sedition.
The police, however, have still charged the Kashmiris with promoting enmity and mischief. That suggests it’s a crime to cheer the opponents of the Indian cricket team. But it’s not; not by any stretch of the imagination. This is nothing short of blatant abuse of the law.
This dismal episode also reveals our society in a hypocritical light. Normally, praising the other side is good sportsmanship. In 2004, when India toured Pakistan, and our hosts cheered our victories, we applauded them for doing so. We praised the large heartedness of the Pakistani audience. Isn’t it strange that 10 years later, when Kashmiris cheer Pakistan, we press criminal charges?
I’ve found several lawyers who sharply criticise the Meerut police but very few politicians. Even our external affairs minister, a prominent Muslim MP and in his personal capacity a leading lawyer, refuses to comment on the charges. Yet he spoke without hesitation about how “distressing” he found the Kashmiri behaviour.
Of course, there’s no denying the fact the Kashmiri students were doing more than just cheering India’s opponents. This wasn’t simply a case of good sportsmanship. It was primarily an expression of alienation from the rest of the country. It was a political and not a sporting gesture.
In many ways the students remind me of Indian and Pakistani spectators in the 1980s and 1990s at cricket matches in England when the home team played visitors from the subcontinent. The Indians and Pakistanis would frequently, visibly if not vociferously, cheer England’s opponents. Yet these were people who had consciously chosen to leave their original countries and settle in Britain.
What lay behind this behaviour were two simple facts. First, the immigrants did not feel at home in England. But it also revealed they were not made to feel welcome.
That’s not the case today. When India tours England later this year you won’t see similar scenes, at least not to the same extent.
Two things have changed. British society has reached out and accepted Indians and Pakistanis. Today there is no glass ceiling that holds them back. Equally importantly, third and fourth generation Asians no longer feel the same attachment to the subcontinent their parents did. They don’t belong to it. They are British, not Indian or Pakistani.
Kashmiris, on the other hand, remain Kashmiris. They don’t see themselves as Indian. So if there’s a lesson the Meerut episode teaches us it lies in this contrast. The bonds they’ve forged in England don’t exist in our case. That’s because the same effort hasn’t gone into creating them.
Kashmiris, as a result, may be a part of India but they remain apart from the mainstream. It’s a sad truth we have to accept before we can remedy it.
The views expressed by the author are personal