Valay Singh: As Pakistan completed a narrow, thrilling win over India in the Asia Cup Super Four match at Dubai cricket stadium, a certain section of Indian fans launched a flurry of hate-filled, racist tweets directed at their fast bowler Arshdeep Singh.
In a nail-biting finish, India lost by five wickets on Sunday. While Singh bowled well, giving away just 27 runs off his 3.5 overs, including the final over of the match, his dropped catch off Asif Ali was the reason he became the latest Indian cricketer to be targeted over his religion.
Ali had yet to score when he was dropped by Singh. The batter went on to score 16 valuable runs off just eight deliveries, playing a key role in Pakistan’s win at the death.
Soon after, a section of fans went on Twitter, singling Singh out for India’s loss and labelling the Sikh bowler “Khalistani”, a reference to the separatist movement that has demanded a separate state for Sikhs in the northern state of Punjab.
Over the last eight years since Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been in power, Hindu majoritarianism has swept across India and non-Hindu minorities have been at the receiving end.
In June this year, the US Department of State noted in its annual report that “attacks on members of religious minority communities, including killings, assaults, and intimidation, occurred throughout the year . These included incidents of ‘cow vigilantism’ against non-Hindus based on allegations of cow slaughter or trade in beef.”
The lynching of Muslims has become common, and a slew of laws and state actions have been implemented, putting their lives and way of life in mortal jeopardy.
Other minorities such as Christians have also been attacked with their schools and churches targeted over right-wing Hindu claims of forced conversions.
Sikhs, too, have increasingly come under attack in the wake of an unprecedented year-long blockade of the national capital, New Delhi, by farmers’ unions in 2021.
Most farmer unions who protested against the Modi-led Indian government were from Punjab, the only Sikh majority state in the country.
The Modi government eventually backtracked and repealed the contentious farm legislation.
The targeting of Singh by using terms such as “Khalistani” and “Sikh” indicate the growing impunity of right-wing Hindu groups.
“It seems inevitable that a section of fans, particularly with the sheer amount of cricket being played, will need to manufacture talking points,” Siddhanth Aney, former editor of Sports Illustrated India, told Al Jazeera.
“That this manifests as targeting of those most easy to attack – any kind of minority – reflects the success of the propaganda project of India’s current ruling ideology. It puts into sharp contrast why we watch and love sport, with the more stark reality of the world in which that sport happens.”
Sunday’s incident was not the first time a non-Hindu player was targeted. Singh, 23, merely was the latest cricketer to become the target of hate campaigns and vicious criticism following a loss to Pakistan.
In October last year, Mohammed Shami, another Indian fast bowler, was abused after the team’s loss to Pakistan at the same venue.
He was targeted for being a Muslim with questions being raised over his loyalty and patriotism because of his religion.
While the Indian cricket board has not come out in support of Singh yet, it tweeted a delayed response to the criticism aimed at Shami.
However, Virat Kohli, who was then captain of the national team, slammed the treatment handed out to Shami.
“To me, attacking someone over their religion is the most pathetic thing a human being can do,” Kohli said at a press conference last year, despite an attempt by the team’s media manager to avoid answering the question.
“There’s a reason we are playing on the field and not those spineless people. Many people hide their identity in social media, then try to troll the players and it is the lowest point in their life.”
Cricket matches between the two nuclear-armed neighbours, who have fought at least three wars, have always been high-voltage affairs.
The two sides have not played bilateral series since 2012 and the continuing Asia Cup match on August 28 was the first time the teams met since October last year.
In the past, right-wing Hindu groups have forcibly prevented the two from playing in India.
Also targeted during cricket matches with Pakistan are Muslims, especially students who have been assaulted whenever India loses to its Muslim neighbour.