Cricket fans charged with sedition

Indian police arrested 19 Muslims for celebrating Pakistan’s Champions Trophy win

“War by sporting means”: cricket fans gather around the vehicle carrying the Pakistan  captain, Sarfraz Ahmed, through Karachi after his team’s surprise victory over India. Photograph: Rizwan Tabassum/AFP/Getty

“War by sporting means”: cricket fans gather around the vehicle carrying the Pakistan captain, Sarfraz Ahmed, through Karachi after his team’s surprise victory over India. Photograph: Rizwan Tabassum/AFP/Getty

 

Police in India have charged 17 people in two provinces with sedition after they allegedly cheered Pakistan for defeating India in the International Cricket Council’s Champions Trophy final in London on Sunday.

Police said 15 Muslim men were arrested in central Madhya Pradesh state and another two in southern Karnataka province for shouting pro-Pakistan slogans and bursting crackers in celebration of its 180-run victory over India at the Oval cricket ground.

Another four Muslim men were arrested in Karnataka and charged with “hurting the religious sentiments” of India’s majority-Hindu community.

Muslims make up about 18 per cent of India’s population of more than 1.25 billion people.

According to reports from Burhanpur in Madhya Pradesh, 350km south of the state capital, Bhopal, all those arrested were denied bail on Tuesday by the district court, and remanded to judicial custody for 15 days.

Sedition in India is punishable by life imprisonment. Legal analysts said the 15 men could languish in jail for years in India’s slow judicial system.

Complaints by Hindus

Police said the arrests followed complaints by local Hindus who objected to the Muslim men celebrating India’s loss, which came as a shock to the entire country, as India were billed as favourites to win the trophy.

“The visceral tension and mutual dislike between the two communities was triggered by India’s loss and the handful of Muslims cheering for Pakistan,” said a senior state police official, declining to be named.

The Indian subcontinent was partitioned by the British in 1947 into a Hindu-dominated but secular India and the Islamic state of Pakistan, amid widespread rioting and bloodshed – the memory of which is kept alive by both sides.

This was not the first time that India resorted to such drastic measures against its citizens for supporting Pakistan during a cricket match; in recent years the game has become highly politicised, mirroring bitter bilateral military and diplomatic relations between Islamabad and New Delhi.

In March 2014, for instance, a private university in Meerut, adjoining Delhi, suspended 67 Muslim students from Kashmir for cheering Pakistan in a pan-Asian cricket tournament. The applauding students were told to vacate their hostel accommodation by the authorities and escorted off campus by the police. Many thereafter abandoned their studies, returning home to Kashmir rather than face humiliation merely for supporting one team during a sporting event.

Harsh response

Pakistan too has taken similarly harsh action against anyone supporting the Indian team. Last year Pakistani police arrested a young boy in Okara district in southern Punjab province for displaying the Indian flag during a cricket match between the neighbours, charging him with opposing the ideology of Pakistan.

And the Pakistan cricket team has more than once faced public abuse and stoning by irate countrymen on returning home after losing to India.

“Cricket matches between India and Pakistan are simply war by sporting means,” said the political columnist and human-rights activist Kuldip Nayar, referring to the game that is akin to a religion in both countries. Nationalism, he added, was on public display in equal measure on both sides of the border whenever the two sides clashed on the cricket pitch.