Author: Saadut
•7:53 PM

Cricket is as much a passion in Kashmir as in the rest of Indian subcontinent, but loyalties here are not based on paper nationalities or passports. With every India Pakistan cricket encounter, emotions run high in Kashmir with anxious people, some of them in prayers seeking the win of team Pakistan. For long majority Kashmiris have known not to identify with the geo-political idea of India. Blame this, part on decades of denial of political, economic and civilian rights in Kashmir by India and part on the ethnic and religious image of Pakistan identified with by Kashmiris. Hence every India Pak cricket encounter is virtually treated as team Kashmir v/s team India. Perhaps the roots of this ideological subscription evolved with the partition of India and Pakistan and the military division of Kashmir between two warring neighbors, much against the wishes of common Kashmiris. Even before India had promised a plebiscite for Kashmir at the UN, Kashmir should have gone to Pakistan based on the partition rule of religious majorities. While the Maharaja of Kashmir (who himself was a non Kashmiri, having inherited this kingdom after the British had sold it to his family in 1846) wanted to remain independent, an instrument of accession is reportedly have been signed by him under dubious circumstances, the accession being still temporary till common Kashmiris decided their own future. People of Kashmir always awaited the much promised plebiscite, which India always dithered with. Right after the creation of ‘Azad Kashmir’ an autonomous region under Pakistan, Kashmiris started looking at Pakistan for supporting their cause. And for decades every cricket encounter between India and Pakistan was seen here as a battle of ideals and thoughts.

Over decades while India reneged on its promise of a plebiscite in Kashmir, it also forced total political, economic and civil rights deprivation in Kashmir by rigging elections, installing nominated political proxies, exerting exclusive rights over Kashmir waters and resources and trampling human rights with impunity. It was this deprivation that exhausted all or any little hope of justice that Kashmiris might have had from India. Such deprivation and desperation became one of the prime reasons of insurgency in Kashmir. For all claims of India blaming Pakistan for the insurgency in Kashmir, it is India which is primarily responsible for igniting and sustaining insurgency here by pushing common Kashmiris to the extreme wall, Pakistan only seized an unrest opportunity created and fueled by India. The open rigging of 1987 election by Farooq Abdullah and party with Delhi’s blessings and the subsequent torture of political opponents was just a brink waiting to fill up for this revolt. The years that followed saw unimaginable atrocities committed by Indian forces against common Kashmiris, including routine massacres, rapes, murders, custodial disappearances and disabling torture. Most of these heinous crimes were aimed at breaking the will of common people, subjugating their political and civil aspirations and forcing a colonizing order in Kashmir. Indian policy on Kashmir was evident from a bold sign written in an Indian security forces camp “Get them by their balls, hearts and minds will follow.” 

While Kashmiris may have a soft corner for Pakistan, majority here do not want to be a part of Pakistan. Over years the common sentiment in Kashmir has set into ‘cordially your neighbor but not your part’ for both India and Pakistan. The idea of Pakistan that existed six decades back is in total contrast to the reality of Pakistan that is viewed by the new generation in Kashmir. But whatever the political, economic change Pakistan may have encountered over years, Kashmiris continue to identify with it culturally, geographically and in faith. The ‘Azadi’ narrative in Kashmir may not see Pakistan as a choice, but they see Pakistan as a support pillar, as a contra force to India. And this identification with the domain of Pakistan extends beyond politics. Every Eid festival in Kashmir only follows the sighting of moon by religious experts in Pakistan (and not of India), so much so that even the ‘Sarkari Mufti’ in Kashmir (cleric known to be sponsored by NC government) is known to push his two bytes of ‘Eid moon announcement’ on state broadcaster only after he has heard the moon sighting announcement on Pakistan TV. It is another matter altogether that nobody in Kashmir pays heed to the ‘Sarkari Mufti’.  

Displaying a pro Pakistan sentiment in Kashmir is also seen as an attempt by some youth to tease the Indian forces, viewed as oppressive and draconian by commoners. I have witnessed some youth shouting ‘Azadi’ slogans in their protests and then shifting to ‘Jeeve Jeeve Pakistan’ when in sight of Indian forces bunkers. They know Indian forces get angrier by the mention of Pakistan than with Azadi. Often such sloganeering by conflict traumatized and military brutalized youth is not mere provocation but an attempt to respond to the military aggressor by whatever means they can. It is a way of letting the steam out from a barricaded psychological trauma.  And such psyche gets further strengthened with incidents like Indian forces shooting dead innocent youth in Srinagar just because India lost a match to Pakistan (in the Australasia Cup) or more recently at Gulmarg Indian soldiers stabbing a Kashmiri youth after Pakistan had defeated the Indian team in Bangladesh. Such team alliances are old, as a child I remember how some Pandit boys would pelt stones on Muslims houses close to where my teacher lived in old Srinagar, whenever India lost a match, and often these boys would not be acted upon since their families had the ‘right official connections’. During past two decades (especially the peak of insurgency) brutal crackdowns by the Indian armed forces were enforced on local habitations, locals beaten up or arrested whenever India lost a cricket match to Pakistan, as if holding common Kashmiris responsible for the loss or incapability of the Indian team. Over years, in mainland India such hate and prejudice seems to have only grown, example Kashmiri students expelled from a Meerut university because they cheered for Afridi or Kashmiri students in Punjab harassed for cheering team Pakistan. 

But it is not only the pro Azadi lobby in Kashmir that supports team Pakistan.  I have witnessed how a prominent pro Delhi politician sat on the edge of his sofa, during an India Pakistan match, cheering for team Pakistan. Such support for team Pakistan exists beyond the political divide here, identifying more with the idea of a welfare Muslim state there, or as in recent times, against the rising Hindu right wing domination in India that views Muslims as second class citizens. Many erstwhile pro India personalities in Kashmir that I have conversed with have turned around in their political ideology realizing the fate of Indian Muslims in India and the futility of Kashmiri hopes there. For if the Muslims of India, who are Indian nationalists by choice, stare at a bleak future in right winged India, what chances did the Kashmiri Muslim have there, who are not only targeted for being Muslim but also for being Kashmiri! 

While the new generation of Kashmir has learned by experience the bitter realities of Indian military hold on Kashmir, the older generation has outlived brutalities of earlier New Delhi regimes. Post ’47 stories of Sheikh Abdullah’s henchmen and state forces keeping an eye on people and how anybody found listening to ‘Radio Muzaffarabad’ would be tortured, often by stuffing their mouth with boiling potatoes or using hot iron on their bodies. Such torture acts were utilized only to keep his political opposition subdued, most political opponents having already been driven out of Kashmir by brute force. But even such torture tactics could not subdue the feelings of common Kashmiris towards Pakistan. Ironically in later years Sheikh Abdulla’s son Farooq Abdullah was reported to have been a ‘founding member of JKLF’ when ‘he visited Pakistan Administered Kashmir in 1974, met Amanullah Khan and called for a plebiscite here’ (page 162 ‘Frozen Turbulence in Kashmir’ by Jagmohan). His brief leaning towards the ‘plebiscite front’ and flip-flops between total pro India, autonomy and Pakistan have always been seen as convenient political posturing while being faithful to none particular. The use of Pakistan by pro Delhi politicians is not anything new, often seen using Pakistan speak in Kashmir to seek power.

For Kashmiris, much blood has flown down the Jehlum at the hands of India. The seeds of denial and brutality India planted for decades in Kashmir could only reap bitterness and disillusionment. What India views (and pretends blind to) as one odd Pathribal, Machil, KunanPoshpora, Gawkadal or Bijebehada, has been a routine in Kashmir at the hands of Indian forces. With trampling of innocent lives by a military machine becoming the norm, resistance becomes the rule, even be it with mere words or slogans. And continuity of such persecution and despotism on a generation leads them to a psychological state where fear ceases often leading to disastrous consequences, at times evolving from peaceful to violent protests (in 2010 youth killed by the Indian forces were peaceful protestors). In such circumstances expecting this alienated fearless generation to show any support for India, even if in sports, is farfetched. Kashmiris do not hate Indians; they hate the Indian oppression of Kashmir, the denial of justice. Indians linking the cheering of Kashmiris for team Pakistan with ‘shunt them out of India’ nationalism is as ridiculous as England throwing out Indians with British passports just because they would support team India in an India v/s England match. In an extremely alienated environment, such sports wins are brief occasions of collective joy for Kashmiris. Viewing such jubilation as treason, while India never cared about the rights of Kashmiris, is as ridiculous as can be.

Sports being just a game, the choices of team support should be personal, keeping forced nationalism away from it. Instead of targeting Kashmiris for their cricket affiliations, India should utilize its energies to resolve the Kashmir tangle. You don’t force loyalties and support, you earn them.