A mini scandal erupted recently as we learnt that the Pakistan’s women’s cricket team, in India to participate in the World Cup, has been housed not in a five-star hotel like other teams participating in the tournament, but in the clubhouse on the Barabati stadium grounds in Cuttack, in the state of Orissa. The authorities in charge of the tournament said that this was a security measure in the face of right-wing protests against Pakistan’s presence in the tournament. Sequestering the team in the stadium itself meant less travel time for the team, which reduced their exposure to any protests or violence during their commute to and from a hotel.
Prior to the tournament, all matches of the Pakistan team were shifted from Mumbai to Cuttack in Orissa, east India, in order to escape the worst of the backlash against the team’s presence. The housing of the team in the clubhouse instead of a more luxurious hotel is being seen by some as a message to Pakistan: if you misbehave with us, we will treat you equally miserably.
The manager of the team, Ayesha Ashar, said that the team was happy with the accommodation, a very diplomatic comment, given that the team is in India and has yet to play its matches. Expressing unhappiness with the decision would probably cause them a lot more grief in the headlines and from the right-wing kooks who think sports teams are the same as terrorists.
There are people who are saying the entire team should be called back and Pakistan should not compete in matches in India. A lot of bitterness has been expressed on Twitter about the seemingly unfair treatment of the Pakistani team. It is ironic, however, that in their determination to keep going, the players are demonstrating more grace and dignity, and proving that they are stronger and hardier, than most government entourages who insist upon five-star treatment and perks whenever they go abroad on their bloated international tours and missions.
This leads to a more important question: do Pakistanis and Indians really want peace with each other? The sentiment in Pakistan seems to be that we Pakistanis keep making concessions in the search for friendship and better relations with India, but India does not seem to be responding in kind. Instead, they keep raising the bar for us and making it difficult for Pakistanis who travel to India. Take the example of the authors who went to Jaipur for the literary festival; their presence was protested by the RSS too. In the face of so much negativity, why should Pakistan bother to keep extending the olive branch?
The Indians, too, feel bitter about Pakistan. They see us as hypocrites: on the surface, willing to make overtures of friendship and peace, but unofficially still supporting anti-India terrorists in Kashmir and elsewhere in India. There is still so much bitterness about what happened at Partition, in the wars between India and Pakistan, in the Mumbai attacks. Sometimes it seems as though India has never forgiven Pakistan for wanting to break away and become its own country. How dare you, the unspoken line seems to be, how dare you break the territorial integrity of India, cause the death of millions during Partition, fight wars against us, support terrorists against us? Who do you think you are?
Anti-Pakistan and anti-Muslim attitudes are capturing a lot of headlines at the moment, with actor Shahrukh Khan (SRK) talking about how even he is mistreated because of his religion. This has led to a flurry of tit-for-tat statements across the border, with Hafiz Saeed offering ‘protection’ to SRK. These ridiculous games aside, it strikes me that India still wants a measure of subservience from Pakistan, who it feels has not acted maturely enough to warrant the equal status that Pakistan demands from its larger neighbour.
The anti-India, anti-Pakistan rhetoric is ever-present; it never runs out of fuel. The ‘unfair’ treatment of the Pakistan women’s cricket team is problematic in itself, but it has thrown into sharp relief the lines of division between India and Pakistan. And instead of healing, they seem to be festering, still infected with the poison of hatred and mistrust. We’ve been trying to medicate these wounds for years, but we’ve never really treated the disease that lies beneath the symptoms. I wonder how long it will be before another amputation will be deemed necessary to save both the patients.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 1st, 2013.