The altercation between Andrew Symonds and Harbhajan Singh and the subsequent three-match ban handed out to Harbhajan by the ICC has left a bad taste. What’s worse? That the Australian cricket team, as alleged by many bloggers, journalists and cricket enthusiasts, played with not 11 but 13 players, including the two umpires. Let’s get this straight. Andrew Symonds is not the only black player in the world. In fact, the entire West Indian team, most of the Kenyan team and some members of the South African team are dark-skinned. Why is it that nobody has ever lodged complaints against any player for racial abuse ever before? This could imply one of two things: 1) Symonds is so ashamed of his skin colour that he makes it a point to talk about it at every available opportunity, or 2) that he is hyper-sensitive and any remark made to him or about him is taken as a racist remark. Either way, what has been done to Harbhajan is grossly unjust. If Harbhajan must be pulled up for un-gentlemanly behaviour on the field, so must Symonds, and the rest of the Australian team. After all, dishing out bad language and name-calling is a standard practice with them. So, how is it fair that while Harbhajan faces a three-match ban, Symonds gets away scot-free inspite of insulting, not just Harbhajan but also his mother and sister?
Practically every newspaper has published what Harbhajan said to Symonds (allegedly called him a monkey), while no paper has published what Symonds said to provoke this kind of (certainly unacceptable) behaviour by Harbhajan. Apparently, Symonds remarks to Harbhajan were unprintable and entirely objectionable. Coming to the racism part, while calling someone a monkey is definitely not acceptable on a cricket field, it does not amount to racism. Are the Australian cricketers descendants of dinosaurs, unlike the rest of humanity? What of Ponting and Symonds, and the rest of the Australian team whose full-time occupation is to mount psychological pressure on the opponents by taunting and name-calling? Is that acceptable behaviour on a cricket ground? If what Bhajji did was wrong, what Symonds and Ponting did was wrong too. On the field, the umpires practically took Ponting at his word while judging Ganguly and Dravid out. Clarke clearly grounded the ball but Ganguly was given out anyway. Dravid’s bat was behind his body and well out of the way, but he was adjudged caught behind anyway. Is this cricket? To me, it most certainly is not. What is happening in Australia, both on the field and off it, is just plain dirty. There are no two ways of putting it.
As if all this is not enough, the Sydney Morning Herald published a column on 5th January, claiming that the Indian Cricket Team is a personal fiefdom of Brahmins and that other castes are deliberately kept out because they are not “upper-caste.” I have just one question to ask of Andrew Stevenson. Who the f*** are you to be judgemental of India and its society? Thankfully, Salil Tripathi is around to set the record right, giving information and arguments I would never have been capable of giving. I shall, however, try my best. Stevenson calls India a caste-conscious and heirarchy-ridden society. He claims that within the Indian cricket team, players form groups based on what caste they come from. Tell me something. Does anyone bother to ask for the caste of the person who works with us. Does anyone know to what caste our drivers, maids, vegetable vendors, colleagues, or even neighbours and friends belong? Left to ourselves, we would forget caste and just do our work. As I have said before, the only domain in which caste still plays a major role is marriage. So, as long as Sachin Tendulkar is not planning to marry off his daughter to his teammate’s son, how does caste matter?
What irks me most is that Stevenson occupies the moral high ground while analysing the impact of caste on Indian cricket. Judging from the way the Aussies behaved, both on field and off it, over the paste 3 days, they have no business being judgemental about India and its society. We, as Indians, have not forgotten how Dr. Mohammed Haneef was thrown into jail on a mere suspicion and kept inside for ages. When he finally managed to get bail, the then Immigration Minister, Kevin Andrews, revoked his visa, labelled him an illegal immigrant and sent him back to prison. Only a change of government has permitted Dr. Haneef to get his visa reinstated. Should we slam Australia for being racist then? During my many conversations with Nita, I have heard horror stories of racial and ethnic discrimination in Australia. Should I then write an article in an Indian newspaper saying that Australia is the most racist country in the world after apartheid-era South Africa? So, Mr. Stevenson, listen to this. Get off your moral high ground and set your own house in order before criticising us. And judge our cricket team by its results and not by its caste composition. And while you are at it, let the team play cricket. Your gamesmanship and slander have no place in what was once a gentleman’s game.