Imagine this. You’re sitting at home watching a sporting event and chatting via text with a few of your friends. Let’s say you’re living in Dallas and the Cowboys are playing the San Francisco 49ers, but even though you live in Texas you and your buds are fans of the 49ers. The Niners win the game and the congratulatory texts go back and forth.
Then the Dallas police show up at your doors and arrest all of you for being prejudicial to the national interest of Texas. And when you try to get a lawyer to help you out of this mess you find out all the lawyers in Texas won’t defend you, not because you can’t pay, but because they don’t want to be seen defending you.
As Kafkaesque as this situation sounds, it is the reality for eight people currently in Indian jails because they posted texts of support for the Pakistan national cricket team in it’s match against India on WhatsApp. They have been in jail for over two months. Some have lost their jobs, some have been expelled from their schools. All have had their lives and the lives of their loved ones threatened.
All of them have been told in no uncertain terms that there are no lawyers in a country of 1.4 billion people who will defend them.
All this over a fucking cricket match.
In case you aren’t aware, India and Pakistan have a long and tortured history dating back to the 1947 partition that created the two states. Actually it goes back even further because this is a religious issue, Hindu India versus Muslim Pakistan that goes as far back as the founding of those two religions. Once again, it’s a situation of my version of Sky Daddy is better than your version of Sky Daddy.
So for an Indian teacher or student to put into writing their admiration for the way the Pakistan team played the game or for the way they handled their victory or even to say you liked the look of their uniforms is not a matter of personal opinion but rather a matter of treason. At least to the Indian authorities. And thus our group of Pakistan fans have all been arrested for “promoting enmity and disrupting religious harmony”.
Sporting events are supposed to help countries to come together and find common ground in the language of athletic achievement. At least that’s what NBC always says at the beginning of every Olympics. Instead, the ancient and modern animus that exists between Indians and Pakistanis has a new chapter to add to their epic novel of hatred.
The notion of an Indian state that Gandhi and Nehru envisioned was that of a multicultural, multi-religious, sectarian state. Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Zoroastrians, etc. all living and working together in peace and harmony. But the British, who held power in the area, decided that Hindus and Muslims couldn’t play nice together and divided the nation into a majority Hindu area (what is now India) and two majority Muslim areas (what is now Pakistan to the west and what is now Bangladesh to the east). This caused a refugee crisis as Muslims left India for Pakistan and Hindus left Pakistan for India. In the chaos that ensued it is estimated that 14.5 million people left their homes to live in whichever religious majority country they were affiliated with. The peaceful transition hoped for never materialized with estimates of anywhere from several hundred thousands to a number in the low millions being killed. To this day the tensions between the two countries run high and are enhanced by the fact they both have nuclear weapons.
Click the link to continue with this surreal tale.
But after the violence, India did in fact become a fairly liberal non-sectarian government. To paraphrase an American president, the business of India became business. There were religious tensions, particularly between Hindus and Sikhs, but the population of the country divided into those who lived a hand to mouth existence (the caste system still held sway) and those who wanted to live in the modern world. Indian technology and manufacturing became well known world wide.
Still there were those who were disgruntled, who felt they had somehow been slighted and left behind. And thus Narendra Modi came to power.
Modi is a Hindu nationalist who believes India should be a Hindu state, just as Pakistan is a Muslim state. To that end (from Wikipedia):
The Modi government launched investigations by the Intelligence Bureau against numerous civil society organizations and foreign non-governmental organizations in the first year of the administration. The investigations, on the grounds that these organizations were slowing economic growth, was criticized as a witch-hunt. International humanitarian aid organization Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) was among the groups that were put under pressure. Other organizations affected included the Sierra Club and Avaaz. Cases of sedition were filed against individuals criticizing the government.
And of course criticizing the government can be construed to mean cheering for the rival country’s cricket team. And any lawyer who might defend you would find his career and possibly his freedom on tenterhooks.
According to the journal Law and Ethics of Human Rights:
The BJP government incrementally but systemically attacked nearly all existing mechanisms that are in place to hold the political executive to account, either by ensuring that these mechanisms became subservient to the political executive or were captured by party loyalists.
You know, sorta like a certain American political party rigging redistricting to make sure they will always have a majority in Congress while being a minority within the country. Or filling the Supreme Court with adherents that care not a whit about the constitution except when they can tortuously wrangle it to serve their needs. Or having a propaganda arm tirelessly drum beat the idea that rampaging insurrectionists running ramshackle over the nation’s Capital building were merely tourists out to express their firmly held belief in the false claims of a “stolen election”.
Trump and Modi aren’t two sides of the same coin, they are the same side on the same coin. Both are narcissistic men who care only about themselves and the power they can accrue to themselves. To them, democracy is an inconvenience, an irritation they would love to rid themselves of and are doing whatever they can to achieve that end. They believe in a world where the rich and powerful are to be served by the poor and powerless and that that dynamic should be enshrined in law. Hell, they even campaigned for office alike, each declaring himself to be someone who has the experience to bring a business like attitude to government while at the same time being a strong, masculine leader. About the only difference is that Modi has never claimed to have grabbed a woman by her genitals.
So if you laughed at the introduction to this article or thought how ridiculous the notion of going to jail for supporting the “wrong” team is, just remember that it really has happened. And, as the saying goes, it could happen here. Say like if deep red Texas decided that deep blue California is a threat to their anti-abortion laws or any of their proposed anti-LGBTQ laws. Niner fans in Dallas or Houston would then be wise to practice their fandom in secret.
Democracy dies in the dark I’ve heard someone say.
And if this has you bummed especially at Christmas time, here’s my favorite musical satirist to humorously remind you that for at least one week a year we can all learn to live together