Spare cricket from bigotry | HT Editorial
Wasim Jaffer, a former Indian Test cricketer and the highest run-scorer in the Ranji Trophy, resigned as the coach of the Uttarakhand team earlier this week, alleging that officials had pushed undeserving players. A day later, a senior office-bearer of the Cricket Association of Uttarakhand (CAU) accused Mr Jaffer of “communalising the dressing room” and favouring Muslim players. Mr Jaffer has strongly denied the allegations, expressed deep hurt, and has drawn support from cricketers — from Anil Kumble and Irfan Pathan, to his former teammates in state teams who have vouched for his professionalism and integrity.
A fallout between a coach and a cricket association is not new, neither are differences that may arise on selection of players or how a team should function or the autonomy a coach must enjoy. But Indian cricket has been an exemplar of Indian secularism in practice. It has not mattered if you are Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian, Parsi; it has not mattered if you are from the south or north or east or west; it has not mattered if you are from a slick urban upper middle-class background or have small-town subaltern roots. All that has mattered is how you bat, bowl, field and function in the cricket team, on purely cricketing yardsticks. That these allegations were made against Mr Jaffer is deeply disturbing, for it is an effort to introduce the politics of communalism, bigotry and prejudice into what has often been called India’s true religion, cricket.
If the allegations were an aberration, they could well be dismissed. But it comes in the wake of a rising trend of marginalising minorities and forcing them to prove their nationalism at each juncture. In the world of films, another secular space, Muslim actors are increasingly cautious in expressing their views given the systematic attacks against film icons who have, in the past, expressed dissent. In the world of politics, there is severe underrepresentation of Muslims in power structures. In the world of law and the criminal justice system, there is an effort to penalise interfaith marriages, especially between Muslim men and Hindu women. And in society, the gulf between Hindus and Muslims has only increased, often fuelled by hate speech on social media and in electoral campaigns. Mr Jaffer’s story is a disturbing tale of how this prejudice has now seeped into cricket, and must be unequivocally condemned.