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Cheerleaders harassed in leer country

From getting obscene comments to receiving lewd proposals, from ogling men to constant jeering, international cheerleaders, adding glamour and entertainment to the IPL matches, are a scared and disgusted lot, reports Varun Gupta.

cricket Updated: Apr 24, 2008 03:01 IST
Varun Gupta

Imagine an IPL game and it’s difficult to visualise it without all the sideshows. The superstars, the not-so-super stars and the cheerleaders — generally white, skimpily clad and flashing beatific smiles.

Unfortunately, behind the mega-watt beams and enthusiastic hippy-hippy shakes are some very unhappy (even scared) young ladies. The reason: They’re slowly being undone by the obscenities and lewd propositions targeted at them by Indian spectators.

“It’s been horrendous,” a cheerleader told HT, echoing the point of many when saying the kind of comments they have “had to endure over the last week from the Indian public” had left them “disgusted and disturbed”.

Tabitha, who says she’s originally from Uzbekistan, added, “Wherever we go, we do expect people to pass lewd, snide remarks but I’m shocked by the nature and magnitude of the comments people pass here… Be it a 70-year-old oldie or a 15-year-old kid, they all letch at us and make amorous advances. I feel very threatened. We are here to entertain them, to add a bit of glamour, but we are living in constant fear (of someone attempting something).”

Another cheerleader, worried about revealing her name, said: “It’s tough to dance and keep smiling when the people behind are giving you hell. People here think we’re morally loose women just because they see us enjoying ourselves. We’re doing a job and all we want is a bit of respect, that’s all.”

India’s leading socio-historian and writer, Ramchandra Guha, dubbed the phenomenon of cheerleaders despicable and degrading for the game of cricket.

“All the organisers are doing by making scantily-clad white women dance in front of huge crowds is to stoke the base, voyeuristic and sexual insecurities of the Indian male. It is revolting, appalling and shows the game in very poor light,” a disturbed Guha told HT.

“Why we always have to borrow the worst of the western world is beyond me. I have nothing against the cheerleaders, they are only doing their jobs, but I'm against the very concept,” he added. “It's revolting and crude. I hope people are watching cricket rather than the cheerleaders.”

Well they're not and as Charu Sharma, the chief executive of Vijay Mallya's Bangalore team, which famously imported a prize-winning squad of cheerleaders from the Washington Redskins — perhaps the spiffiest outfit of the tournament — scoffed at the suggestion that the concept of cheerleaders disparages the game.

“Why is cricket treated as a holy cow? All they (the cheerleaders) do is give something extra to the game, especially when glamour has become such a big part of the sporting arena,” said Sharma. “We have to move with the times and embrace change. If cricket is so puritanical, then why the coloured clothing, white ball, and other things? And besides, who are we to challenge the market and trends?”

That anyway, is a different story. Asked about the cheerleaders' fears, Sharma said they were being dealt with. “We are aware of the concerns and can take nothing for granted. A security ring will be provided to them and everything that can be done will be done,” he said. They would have to. During the Mohali vs Jaipur game in Jaipur, a group of 15 people right behind the cheerleaders didn't know where to look. And this is what one man said, amidst all the catcalling, hooting and pointed Hindi obscenities: “There is Preity Zinta watching, hot goris dancing, and Yuvraj Singh batting, what more do we need?” The pecking order (of priorities) was clearly outlined. Cricket was last.