As Pakistan completed a narrow, thrilling win over India in the Asia Cup Super Four match at Dubai Cricket Stadium, a section of Indian fans unleashed a barrage of hate-filled, racist tweets directed at their fast bowler Arshdeep Singh. India lost by five wickets in a nail-biting finish on Sunday. While Singh bowled well, conceding only 27 runs in his 3.5 overs, including the final over of the match, it was his dropped catch off Asif Ali that caused him to become the latest Indian cricketer to be targeted because of his religion.
Singh had yet to score when he dropped Ali. The batter went on to score 16 valuable runs off just eight deliveries, contributing significantly to Pakistan’s victory at the death. Soon after, a section of fans took to Twitter, blaming Singh for India’s defeat and labelling the Sikh bowler “Khalistani,” a reference to the separatist movement in the northern state of Punjab that has demanded a separate state for Sikhs. Since Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power eight years ago, Hindu majoritarianism has swept across India, with non-Hindu minorities bearing the brunt of it.
In its annual report issued in June of this year, the US Department of State stated that “attacks on members of religious minority communities, including killings, assaults, and intimidation, occurred throughout the year .” These included ‘cow vigilantism’ incidents against non-Hindus based on allegations of cow slaughter or beef trade. Lynching’s of Muslims have become common, and a slew of laws and state actions have been enacted, jeopardizing their lives and way of life.
Other minorities, such as Christians, have been targeted, with schools and churches targeted in response to right-wing Hindu claims of forced conversions. Sikhs have also come under increasing attack in the aftermath of farmers’ unions’ unprecedented year-long blockade of the national capital, New Delhi, in 2021. The majority of farmer unions protesting against Modi’s Indian government were from Punjab, the country’s only Sikh majority state. The Modi government eventually reversed its position and repealed the contentious farm legislation. The use of terms like “Khalistani” and “Sikh” to describe Singh demonstrates the growing impunity of right-wing Hindu groups. It seems inevitable that a segment of fans, given the volume of cricket being played, will need to create talking points,” Siddhanth Aney, former editor of Sports Illustrated India. The fact that this manifests as targeting of the most vulnerable – any kind of minority – reflects the success of India’s current ruling ideology’s propaganda project.” It contrasts why we watch and love sports with the harsh reality of the world in which they take place.
The incident on Sunday was not the first time a non-Hindu player was targeted. Singh, 23, was just the latest cricketer to face hate campaigns and venomous criticism following a loss to Pakistan. Another Indian fast bowler, Mohammed Shami, was abused after the team’s loss to Pakistan at the same venue last October. He was singled out for being a Muslim, with questions raised about his loyalty and patriotism as a result of his faith. While the Indian cricket board has not yet come out in support of Singh, it has tweeted a delayed response to Shami’s criticism. However, Virat Kohli, the national team’s captain at the time, slammed the treatment given to Shami. “To me, attacking someone because of their religion is the most pitiful thing a human being can do,” Kohli said at a press conference last year, despite the team’s media manager’s attempt to avoid answering the question. “There’s a reason we’re on the field instead of those spineless people.” Many people conceal their identities on social media, then attempt to troll the players, and this is the lowest point in their lives.”
Cricket matches between the two nuclear-armed neighbors have always been high-voltage affairs. The two teams haven’t played a bilateral series since 2012, and the ongoing Asia Cup match on August 28 was the first time they met since October of last year. Right-wing Hindu groups have previously prevented the two from playing in India. Muslims are also targeted during cricket matches with Pakistan, particularly students, who have been assaulted whenever India loses to its Muslim neighbor.