Opinion | Barkha Dutt: India’s cricket workforce took the knee. It was meaningless and hypocritical.

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Taking the knee — which first gained the highlight in 2016, when then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick controversially knelt by way of the U.S. nationwide anthem — has change into a worldwide image of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter motion. It’s a easy, universally understood, highly effective signal of mobilization towards racism. It upholds the traditional concept that sport, with all its visceral competitiveness, is about one thing noble ultimately. Within the 1968 Olympics, practically 5 many years earlier than Kaepernick’s act, two African American athletes, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, raised their fists within the air through the American anthem to drive dwelling a message on human rights.

So why did the sight of India’s cricket workforce — probably the 11 most beloved males anyplace on the earth — dropping to the grass in a shiny Dubai stadium, in help of racial equality, set off incredulity to start out with and utter cynicism by the tip?

As a result of in taking the knee — and it now transpires that it was on the orders of the board that manages the nationwide recreation — they weren’t being vocal defenders of civil liberties. In reality, provided that they’ve hardly ever, if ever, spoken on any modern subject of social justice in India, they have been being exactly the other. In following directions to endorse a marketing campaign that has just about no manifestation within the Indian context (caste discrimination could be extra related), the cricketers have been choosing a subject that was distant and thus “protected.”

Given how tumultuous a time it’s in India — with ferocious public debates erupting over every thing from the pandemic to the spiraling violence in Kashmir — there’s a lot to say and do associated to the nation’s personal home realities. The cricketers may have thrown their unparalleled affect behind any trigger expensive to them. One instance is how the previous Bangladesh cricket captain made a blistering assertion on the spate of assaults on Hindus in Bangladesh.

Had they continued to stay silent, as they normally are, nobody would have seen. Everybody was too engrossed within the faceoff with Pakistan, an adrenaline-thumping sporting encounter like no different in South Asia. It’s after they immediately determined to borrow from the playbook of American soccer gamers to make a superficial present of help for a difficulty far faraway from them that their opacity on extra related issues immediately turned placing.

Intriguingly, India’s left, proper and middle appear united in believing that the gesture smacked of the worst kind of tokenism. Even this might need ended with delicate opprobrium if it weren’t for what occurred subsequent.

Pakistan walked away with the match, and as occurs so usually with big-ticket playoffs, Indians have been heartbroken. Some folks on-line began making coarse and lewd feedback in regards to the defeat. The one who received the worst of it was 31-year-old participant Mohammed Shami. Poisonous, openly Islamophobic feedback have been left on his Instagram web page, suggesting that he was a traitor, one who may take the subsequent flight out to Pakistan. Shami was singled out otherwise than different gamers, and the language used for him was instantly associated to his being Muslim. In reality, he’s the one Muslim on the workforce’s taking part in lineup for this event — a reality that might have been irrelevant had the hate directed at him on-line not underscored his faith.

Now there was an actual parallel with the Black Lives Matter second. What occurred to Shami was just like what occurred to Bukayo Saka, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho, British footballers subjected to horrific racist abuse on-line after lacking their penalty pictures within the Euro 2020 finals earlier this yr.

If the Indian workforce taking the knee appeared beauty earlier, after what occurred to Shami, the gesture started to appear worse than gratuitous. It felt hypocritical. Had been they not going to take a knee in a roundabout way in help of their comrade?

Virat Kohli, India’s captain and a pugnacious and sensible sportsman identified to be aggressively loyal to his workforce members, had displayed generosity and beauty within the method wherein he congratulated the Pakistani workforce on its large win. Pictures of him hugging Mohammad Rizwan, whose sensible play delivered the Pakistanis their victory, went viral and made folks in each international locations really feel heat and fuzzy. Within the subcontinent, the place an India-Pakistan match is commonly referred to as struggle by one other title, Kohli had behaved as grown-ups ought to. So his silence about his colleague on the day was bewildering and disappointing.

Amid mounting criticism, many distinguished cricketing names denounced what Shami had been subjected to. However as that occurred, Kohli was silent. Did he want the go-ahead from the cricket management board? Was he cautious of poisonous feedback being left on his on-line pages? Was he anxious about the price of talking up even on this most elementary of points?

On this silence, you could possibly hear the deafening meaninglessness of the Indian cricket workforce taking the knee.

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