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Update from Rahul, February 11
The Wasim Akram illustration in my post has attracted more pointed feedback than it was intended to, so perhaps it is best to elaborate.
First, the ICC (now headquartered in Dubai). Leave aside for a moment its shortcomings and look at the composition. It is presided over by a Pakistani, vice-presided over by a South African and its technical committee, which looks after almost all the cricketing aspects, is headed by an Indian. Its 10 permanent members include four Asian nations, two African nations and the West Indies.
Some readers have pointed out that Asians have been hard done by in behaviour-related issues, which may be a fair enough interpretation. Still, the panel of match referees is headed by Ranjan Madugulle. In the Michael Slater incident that some have referred to, the match referee was a Bajan, Cammie Smith. Clive Lloyd has been among the strictest referees over the past few years.
Neither at the time of making them, nor in the later inquisition, was Akram able to present a case for his comments, because it attacked not a single specific issue but a skin colour. Can you imagine the furore if a famous English cricketer was to go on record with the exact words: "I am against the ICC. The reason is it's run by all the browns."
A few months before the ICC outburst, Akram's response to Wisden's routine observation about Sachin Tendulkar trading aggression for accumulation involved making it a matter of the English trying to dish out a humiliation. Match-fixing is libellous territory so another little illustration must be withheld here.
It is true that he was a fab, fab cricketer, unjustly vilified for reverse-swing and glory be on him for both bowling it and fighting for its legitimacy, but does that mean we are to be stirred by a convenient and dangerous brand of populism? One reader has alluded to Martin Luther King in defence. Another might respond by citing Robert Mugabe. And by then we've lost the plot.
Anyhow, in the final analysis this is not about Akram. It is simply that the differences between points wich open minds and close minds are there for us to recognise and sift through.
Rahul's original piece
Among the many varied responses to Peter’s much-needed article, Kicking Out Racism, two types are particularly instructive. One is the defensive Australian, indignant that his society has been called racist on the basis of a small number of incidents. The other is the belligerent Asian who counterattacks. Both, in their different ways, miss the point that racism is a condition of the world not a nation. Having never been to Australia, I’ll leave others to hold forth on the first kind. A few points about the second.
A reader's recent email puts it this way: “It is not about colour that the Aussies keep taunting others. It is their history they like to erase: after all, great civilizations thrived in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Africa, [at a time] when Australia was probably populated by animals. Understanding this inferiority complex is the key to solving Aussie spectator and player behaviour.”
This notion of civilisation superiority regularly finds voice in India, too, and more so under provocation. It is as damaging to the bigger cause as the incidents in Australia because, from a position of superiority, it is impossible to introspect with any fruitfulness. And sometimes in India you do worry if there is any introspection: so silent is everyone on the issue that you wonder if they know if it exists at all.
At the Bombay Test match against West Indies in 2002 I was told by friends in the stands that the relentless racist abuse joyously hurled at the visitors by some sections of the crowd was sickening. I don’t know if there was any accompanying the crowd disturbance in three subsequent one-dayers at Jamshedpur, Nagpur and Rajkot – such was the thinness of the reporting on that aspect of it – but it wouldn’t surprise me if there was. The culture which some carry like a shield does after all demonise, in literal terms, the colour black.
Though it was said with a kind of affection, you have to wonder about the chant ,‘Sabse kaala ladka kaun? Kambli, Kambli’ (Who’s the blackest boy of all? Kambli, Kambli). Has anybody asked Kambli what he thinks of it? Or the other dark-skinned people in the audience?
The other form of racism which must be rejected is from the likes of Wasim Akram, whose analysis of every situation culminates in a white conspiracy. While hideous double-standards are often legitimately exposed, it is all too easy for the whole thing to degenerate into a dangerous populism. Take, for instance, his hopelessly uninformed point about the ICC being run by a cabal of whites.
When questioned on the television show Aap Ki Adaalat, Akram responded with: 'Jee, kya maine kuchh galat bola?' (Did I say anything wrong?). He received hearty backing from the sit-in audience. Sometimes we overlook the point that 'gora bh***dh' is really no different from 'black c**t'.
It is worth pointing out that in the past few months in Bombay, supposedly the country’s most cosmopolitan city, black South Africans have been barred entry to certain pubs and a white American to a temple. Despite the obvious confrontation involved, sport remains one of the great levellers, and often precedes the rest of society in the equalising. Fans must continue taking the lead. Quibbling over whose racism is worse is futile. The strongest possible statement Indians can make against the racism in Australia, or any other part of the world, is to confront its own.
In the meantime, a question that remains on the minds of many people. Last week the ICC informed the world that Muttiah Muralitharan has been reprimanded for showing the finger to a man who painted his face black and had the word ‘no-ball’ painted across his chest. Could they please tell us what happened to that man?
Rahul Bhattacharya is the author of the cricket tour book Pundits from Pakistan and the novel The Sly Company of People Who CareFeeds: Rahul Bhattacharya
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Author of Pundits from Pakistan: On Tour with India, 2003-04