In India, A Fight Over Cricket With Fascist Undertones

A recent attack on a Muslim family in Gurgaon shows how cricket has become yet another — and dangerous — metaphor of internal partitions.

Cricket has become yet another metaphor for internal partitions
Cricket has become yet another metaphor for internal partitions
Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee


DELHI — Where to play, or not to play cricket, has become a life-and-death question for Muslims in India.

In Gurgaon's Dhamaspur village, members of a Muslim family that makes a living by repairing home appliances were attacked on March 21, the evening of Holi, by a group of drunken men allegedly from the Gujjar community.

The men appeared on bikes and objected to Muslim boys playing cricket in the open. The boys were told to go play in Pakistan.

Soon, around 25 men, armed with sticks and rods, arrived and chased the boys into their house. The violence that ensued on the terrace was filmed from the rooftop by a brave 21-year-old woman in the family, Daanishtha Siddiqui.

You don't have the right to play cricket here, because you don't have the right to live here.

It has become commonplace in India in recent years to intimidate Muslims in the name of Pakistan. There is a serious danger that lurks beneath the naturalization of this language. A popular idea of religious identity that has emerged in India's political discourse does not understand religion as a difference based on faith, but based on (and justified by) majoritarian sentiments. It is being drilled into popular consciousness that Hindus alone owe allegiance to the nation.

Muslims are openly accused of lacking loyalty, and their alienation is encouraged. Political rights are being defined in antidemocratic and even unconstitutional terms. A fascist ground is being created where — if the perpetrator is Hindu and the victim is Muslim — violence carries a legitimate alibi.

The politicization of religious identity is a majoritarian ploy to commit unanswerable and unlimited violence on minorities. When such politicization becomes part of a fascist project, the mere presence of minorities becomes impermissible. "You don't have the right to play cricket here, because you don't have the right to live here."

It is a fascist line of argument that seeks to create a new dictum of belonging. Only those who belong to the nation have rights here. By majoritarian definition, only one community, historically and politically, belongs to the nation. The rest are identified as outsiders, who can be shown their status anytime. This crude and bizarre language that threatens to snatch away from minority-citizens the rights of belonging is being slowly put to place in India.

It has become common to intimidate muslim Indians in the name of Pakistan Photo: watchsmart

In filming the violence in the Gurgaon incident — at grave risk — Daanishtha makes an ethical point. She records a scary predicament. The motive to record the scene is an alert impulse in the face of fear. The woman behind the frame records the fear of terrified girls and boys huddled together around an iron door. The fear of violence is palpably near. The mobile phone is a defenseless extension of the body that despite fear has the power to record. Steady hands hold and move the camera, despite the fear.

The camera does not record Daanishtha's state of fear, only what unfolds before her. But her fear translates into our fear, as we fear for her people along with her. The camera is also used as a tool to bear witness, and testify against efforts to falsify the truth. Daanishtha made her point, speaking to Aishwarya S. Iyer of The Quint. "Mere naam ka matlab akalmand hain (My name means sensible)," she said.

Territorial violence carries a special logic of cruelty, where the victim is denied the right to exist.

The Hindu vigilantes surrounding and beating up a bleeding Muslim man is an image of excessive cruelty. The men look aroused, almost possessed, by the condition of a defenseless man, hitting him repeatedly.

Violence is addictive when it meets with fear and helplessness. Territorial violence carries a special logic of cruelty, where the victim is denied the right to exist. The right to exist (or not), is linked to the question of land. What is natural (the relation between land and body) takes on a political meaning, where land and body is divided on religious lines.

We have a fascist correlation: Natural = Political = National = Religious. This mad equation does not follow any law, be it scientific, political, national, or religious. It is the mad law of fascism that forges a fictitious relation between nature, politics, nation and religion to draw a circle of unreason. In postcolonial India, this unreason is rooted in the violent memory of Partition.

The logic and sentiment of Partition is reenacted within the nation. Pakistan is not just a place beyond the border, but exists within the nation. In The Quint report, Daanishtha says the men shouted, "Pakistan hai ye (This is Pakistan)." This is a fascist language of internal political demarcation. Muslims, identified as enemies belonging to another country, can have their material possessions — land, property and body — violated.

Terrible paradoxes

The Dhamaspur incident also demonstrates the political equation between land and body. The body, smeared in blood on the floor, deserves no pity. In the language of the Hindu vigilante, the Muslim body is considered the body of an alien, a man who does not belong to this land, and therefore is not protected by the law of sentiments. The nature of violence against Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri, Afrazul in Rajasthan, and the minor boy, Hafiz Junaid, in Haryana, testify to this psyche. Muslims and Hindus are separated not just by faith, but bodies.

This is similar to racist notions of segregation, including those based on religion. The violence unleashed in such cases has a touch of unreality about it, precisely because it seeks to make what is unreal, real.

Daanishtha screams as she shoots the video, "Allah! Ghar mein ghus gaye…(Allah! They have entered the house...)" The young family members are clutching on to the iron door as a shield of defense. Her cries are cries of bare life, hanging by the thread. Life is reduced to (the fear of) its biological existence. The moral and secure sphere of life is broken down by an act of communal aggression.

Article 21 of the Constitution protects our right to life and personal liberty. But life is not simply a constitutional guarantee. Political reality threatens life, by dividing life into caste, class, gender and religion.

The politics of communal territoriality, based on majoritarian nationalism, threatens every sphere of minority-life. It enforces terrible paradoxes, the kind the Muslim household faced: the fear of losing a home within home, and the feeling of losing ground in a place they have lived in since the last three years.

The Muslim family paid the price for their members playing cricket in the street. Cricket is not just a game. It is a metaphor of territoriality and war. After the Pulwama attack, there is an effort to build a national consensus on not playing against Pakistan in the coming World Cup in England. Cricket is the new metaphor of internal partitions.

Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee is the author of Looking for the Nation: Towards Another Idea of India, published by Speaking Tiger Books (August 2018).

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Why This Sudan Coup Is Different

The military has seized control in one of Africa's largest countries, which until recently had made significant progress towards transitioning to democracy after years of strongman rule. But the people, and international community, may not be willing to turn back.

Smoke rises Monday over the Sudanese capital of Khartoum

Xinhua via ZUMA
David E. Kiwuwa

This week the head of Sudan's Sovereign Council, General Abdel Fattah El Burhan, declared the dissolution of the transitional council, which has been in place since the overthrow of former president Omar el-Bashir in 2019. He also disbanded all the structures that had been set up as part of the transitional roadmap, and decreed a state of emergency.

In essence, he staged a palace coup against the transitional authority he chaired.

The general's actions, which included the arrest of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, are a culmination of a long period of tension between the civilian and military wings of the council.

A popular uprising may be inevitable

The tensions were punctuated by an alleged attempted coup only weeks earlier. The days leading to the palace coup were marked by street protests for and against the military. Does this mark the end of the transition as envisaged by the protest movement?

Their ability to confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.

The popular uprising against Bashir's government was led by the Sudan Professional Association. It ushered in the political transitional union of civilians and the military establishment. The interim arrangement was to lead to a return to civilian rule.

But this cohabitation was tenuous from the start, given the oversized role of the military in the transition. Moreover, the military appeared to be reluctant to see the civilian leadership as an equal partner in shepherding through the transition.

Nevertheless, until recently there had been progress towards creating the institutional architecture for the transition. Despite the challenges and notable tension between the signatories to the accord, it was never evident that the dysfunction was so great as to herald the collapse of the transitional authority.

For now, the transition might be disrupted and in fact temporarily upended. But the lesson from Sudan is never to count the masses out of the equation. Their ability to mobilize and confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.

Power sharing

The transitional pact itself had been anchored by eight arduously negotiated protocols. These included regional autonomy, integration of the national army, revenue sharing and repatriation of internal refugees. There was also an agreement to share out positions in national political institutions, such as the legislative and executive branch.

Progress towards these goals was at different stages of implementation. More substantive progress was expected to follow after the end of the transition. This was due in 2022 when the chair of the sovereignty council handed over to a civilian leader. This military intervention is clearly self-serving and an opportunistic power grab.

A promised to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.

In November, the rotational chairmanship of the transitional council was to be passed from the military to the civilian wing of the council. That meant the military would cede strong leverage to the civilians. Instead, with the coup afoot, Burhan has announced both a dissolution of the council as well as the dismissal of provincial governors. He has unilaterally promised return to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.

Prior to this, the military had been systematically challenging the pre-eminence of the civilian authority. It undermined them and publicly berated them for governmental failures and weaknesses. For the last few months there has been a deliberate attempt to sharply criticize the civilian council as riddled with divisions, incompetent and undermining state stability.

File photo shows Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in August 2020

Mohamed Khidir/Xinhua via ZUMA

Generals in suits

Since the revolution against Bashir's government, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.

For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council.

This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy. True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19.

Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse.

Demands of the revolution

The success or failure of this coup will rest on a number of factors.

First is the ability of the military to use force. This includes potential violent confrontation with the counter-coup forces. This will dictate the capacity of the military to change the terms of the transition.

Second is whether the military can harness popular public support in the same way that the Guinean or Egyptian militaries did. This appears to be a tall order, given that popular support appears to be far less forthcoming.

The international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin.

Third, the ability of the Sudanese masses to mobilize against military authorities cannot be overlooked. Massive nationwide street protests and defiance campaigns underpinned by underground organizational capabilities brought down governments in 1964, 1985 and 2019. They could once again present a stern test to the military.

Finally, the international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin. The ability of the military to overcome pressure from regional and international actors to return to the status quo could be decisive, given the international support needed to prop up the crippled economy.

The Sudanese population may have been growing frustrated with its civilian authority's ability to deliver on the demands of the revolution. But it is also true that another coup to reinstate military rule is not something the protesters believe would address the challenges they were facing.

Sudan has needed and will require compromise and principled political goodwill to realise a difficult transition. This will entail setbacks but undoubtedly military intervention in whatever guise is monumentally counterproductive to the aspirations of the protest movement.


David E. Kiwuwa is Associate Professor of International Studies at University of Nottingham

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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