In Pakistan, if you support the Indian cricket team, you will be arrested
I’ve long protested the Indian state’s stern actions against Kashmiri activists and other citizens for hoisting the Pakistani flag or singing the Pakistani anthem. Then something happened in Okara, Pakistan, that left me feeling oddly hypocritical, badly disarmed, and somewhat embarrassed.
A few days ago, a 22-year-old Pakistani tailor raised an Indian flag over the roof of his house in a small Punjabi village. Umar Daraz, a cricket enthusiast, sewed the tricolour banner in his own little shop, ostensibly as a symbol of admiration for the Indian cricket team – particularly, Virat Kohli.
His patriotic neighbours were displeased. Umar refused to remove the flag and continued working in his shop. His house was raided by the police and Umar was soon arrested under Section 123-A of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) and Section-16 of the Maintenance of Public Order (MPO).
These are big words for a young villager who supposedly endangered the sovereignty of our great nation with a piece of cloth, and now faces up to 10 years in jail. These are big words for most people, in fact, and require some explanation.
Section 123-A of PPC says nothing about flags of unfriendly countries, specifically. It outlaws the act of condemning the creation of Pakistan or advocating the abolition of its sovereignty. Section 16 of the MPO deals with the dissemination of rumours.
There is no news of Umar claiming to have directly admonished the Two-Nation Theory or the creation of Pakistan. His act of simply raising an Indian flag over his house may arguably imply such a thing, although Umar admits he had committed a blunder.
One can understand why some Pakistanis might be offended by the sight of an Indian flag over a Pakistani house. And I can also understand why Indian nationalists may be offended by Umar’s arrest. Now, consider the following:
In January last year, seven youngsters were arrested by the Indian police in New Delhi, for allegedly putting up a Pakistani flag. They were charged under Section 153-B of the Indian Penal Code.
In September last year, a Kashmiri leader was arrested for unfurling a Pakistani flag and singing the Pakistani national anthem.
In March 2014, students at Swami Vivekanand Subharti University were suspended and then threatened with sedition charges for cheering for Pakistan’s victory in a cricket match.
Would a Pakistani nationalist endorse the actions of the Indian authorities in these circumstances? It shouldn’t be surprising that what you do unto others is being done unto you too.
We are left with two options that do not involve blunt hypocrisy. The first is for us to embrace our insecurities and shake hands with the Indians on the need to harangue and arrest our own citizens for waving the other country’s banner. We bow our heads and we lead ourselves to believe that the other’s nationalistic delirium justifies our own.
The second option involves an acknowledgement that Pakistan’s integrity is secure enough to withstand the sight of a poor villager brandishing an Indian flag in honour of an athlete or a sports team he admires. Or that India’s dignity is firm enough to endure the sound of one of its subject singing a Pakistani national song without bursting apart at its seams.
The second option for each of us is to take one step back, and avoid adding more caveats to what’s becoming an increasingly meaningless phrase: ‘A Free Country’.
I think I’d strongly recommend the second option!
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