Why is it such a big deal that Afridi thanked the people of Kashmir for their support, India?
During my visit to Azad Kashmir, I came across a truck on the road that was unusually bereft of any truck art; it’s exterior was all plain apart from a few words boldly painted at the back, clearly stating “Boom boom Afridi”. It proudly exhibited the truck owner’s love for the Pakistani cricket player, Shahid Afridi. This immediately reminded me of the first scene from the Bollywood film ‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan’ , showcasing Pakistan’s side Kashmiris cheering for Team Green, a lady among them who was even willing to name her new born after Afridi.
On the Pakistan cricket team’s recent visit to India during the World T20, on the day of their match against New Zealand (March 22, 2016), I received a mention over social media from a Kashmiri (Indian-held Kashmir) saying:
This was the wish of any Kashmiri; to have his love for the Pakistani cricket team recognised by the players. At the beginning of the match, it was quite amazing to see that when Afridi was asked to comment on the support that was visible in the stadium, he did not falter in recognising the support outpouring from Kashmir. It was Ramiz Raja who asked:
“It seems you have a bit of fan following here in Mohali…”
To which Afridi responded by saying:
“Yes, a lot of people, a lot of people are here from Kashmir as well. And I want to thank people of Kolkata; they really support us as well.”
This recognition of support by Afridi made Kashmiri spectators ecstatic. After all, who wouldn’t want their love to be appreciated before the world, and that too by their favourite sportsperson?
The posters in the image below also speak volumes in this regard:
Perhaps a Pakistani uttering the highly sensitive K-word in India wasn’t acceptable to the locals and the following consequences commenced. The Indian media began to report the incident with headlines such as:
‘Now, Afridi says people from Kashmir have come to support Pakistan’ (Hindustan Times)
‘SHOCKING: Shahid Afridi Talks About Kashmir Before World T20 Match’ (ABP News)
The next day, BCCI came out criticising Afridi for using the K-word and advised him to abstain from passing any ‘political’ statements. It’s ridiculously hilarious that a mere appreciation of people and their support has been associated with politics – why?
Because the fans in question belonged to a place that is in dispute between India and Pakistan; a notion that makes no sense at all.
The presence of young Kashmiris, carrying Pakistani flag & posters, in Mohali stadium is the reason why BCCI hates to host Pakistan. #PAKvNZ— Syed Zafar Mehdi (@mehdizafar) March 22, 2016
The story did not end there. After a few days, on March 25, 2016, when Pakistan played against Australia at the same Mohali, again it was noted that a significant number of Kashmiri supporters were present at the stadium, cheering for the Pakistani cricket team. While watching the match, my own family members wondered how Pakistan had obtained an overwhelming amount of support, considering the match was in India and not Pakistan. I informed them that the supporters were Kashmiris who had travelled all the way from Indian-held Kashmir to Mohali for the Pakistani team. Some of the Kashmiris talked about it on Twitter in following words:
On the same day at the post-match ceremony, Afridi thanked the crowd for their support on behalf of the entire team in the following words:
“I want to thank people from Kolkata. I thank people who came and supported us from Pakistan and Kashmir.”
Once again, he mentioned Kashmir. And again, the Kashmiri spectators were overjoyed while the locals were irked. An Indian journalists then tweeted:
What's with Afridi & Kashmir. Did he come to play #WT20 or resolve Kashmir? Sportsmen shd stay clear of politics, esp if they are brainless— Shekhar Gupta (@ShekharGupta) March 25, 2016
Mr Shekhar Gupta should really explain to all of us how thanking the people of Kashmir was in any way an attempt to resolve the Kashmir issue!
Kashmiris on the other hand reacted via social media:
Don't quite understand the heartburn. #Afridi thanked fans from Kolkotta & Kashmir, a perfectly nice sporting thing to do. What's with hate!— Mirza Waheed (@MirzaWaheed) March 25, 2016
It was such a passionate & emotional moment when Afridi thanked Kashmiris.His statement was followed by shrieking of Kashmiris— عقاب (@uuqqaabb) March 25, 2016
In both circumstances, Afridi’s words were not even remotely political. It’s shocking to see how India has reacted to the mere mention of Kashmir. After all, how could thanking the crowd for their support be in any way political? And let’s not ignore the fact that both these times Kolkata and Kashmir were mentioned synonymously, a point that has been hypocritically ignored.
Afridi’s words could only have been termed as ‘political’ if he had talked of occupation, the freedom movement or any kind of relevant dispute. However, there was none. The reaction of BCCI was quite uncalled for, disappointing and irrelevant.
This instance only reflects one thing; India’s sensitivity towards Kashmir, so much so that it becomes intolerable for them to even hear a Pakistani using the K-word while standing on their soil. It is equally pertinent to acknowledge that this is not the first time Kashmir’s support for Pakistan’s cricket team has come into the spotlight. Kashmiris have been cheering for Pakistan for quite a long time. This has also been the cause of beatings, expulsions from educational institutes and also bookings under sedition charges in India.
All these incidents bear an underlying message; it is high time India accepts that, when it comes to cricket, Kashmir – on both sides – generally, has sentiments for Team Green and Shahid Afridi. Accepting this fact will not hurt the Indian political narrative on Kashmir in any way.
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