After India’s defeat by Pakistan in the T20 World Cup, Mohammed Shami, the only Muslim player in the Indian cricket team, faced tremendous social media abuse by his fellow Indians. This is reminiscent of football players of Arab and African descent in Europe, who face racist abuse from fans in their respective countries.
Unfortunately, such social media abuse in India is not new, and it surfaces on the issue of the naming of Saif Ali Khan’s son, or on the issue of Shahrukh Khan’s son who was denied bail for some time, or when some Indian expatriates in the UAE posted Islamophobic messages which were eventually called out by an Emirati Princess. More generally, on various news items on Pakistan, one finds no dearth of hateful comments by some Indians who are obsessed with a country far smaller and weaker than their own. Such a mindset arises in a specific institutional context where the ruling Indian political party has gradually weaned the masses further to the Right through discriminatory citizenship laws and by failing to safeguard minorities against the occasional concerted pogrom by hardline Hindutvavadi groups. This is quite disconcerting, and Pakistan should avoid that path – whenever it decides to grow up.
One could argue that Pakistan was already there before India. After all, Pakistan has institutionally marginalised minorities through the decades. Indeed, before Pakistanis express solidarity with Indian Muslims, they need to look at their own conduct regarding, for instance, the Ahmadis. Let the reader ask themselves whether a Pakistani cricketer could ever openly be Ahmadi, let alone occupy any high-ranking position – as was the case when even someone as well-informed and well-travelled as the PM Imran Khan sidelined world-renowned economist Atif Mian for his faith. This should inform Pakistanis, who have a habit of addressing Muslim oppression across the world, including Palestinians, Syrians, Rohingyas, Kashmiris and Muslims in the West, but who conveniently ignore their own systemic persecution of religious minorities through draconian blasphemy laws. Their justification, of course, is that Pakistan is not a secular country but an Islamic state. And who knows: given the rate at which this society is changing in a particular direction, in the next few years they might – with good reason – claim that the country is run by a caliphate instead of democracy!
However, equating Pakistan with India on the hate metric is problematic. This is because Pakistan does not spend as much on education as India, whose literacy rate far outstrips that of Pakistan. It has a much weaker economy, where the lion’s share of the budget goes to the security establishment that has used its largesse to imperil the lives of brave young men in futile wars. More recently, the chickens have come home to roost, as both the TTP and TLP extremist groups pose an existential threat to the state.
On the other hand, India has had uninterrupted democracy and 74 years post-independence to hone those institutions. That is why, when Pakistan grows up, it should not be like India, where despite democracy, higher rates of education, and greater economic and financial resources, the country still finds itself engulfed with hatred and prejudice against the marginalised Other.
Of course, people in both countries must learn that it is convenient to engage in hashtag activism on Western movements like BLM, MeToo, or Western-style LGBTQ rights discourse, but it is crucially important to stand up for Muslims in India and minorities in Pakistan.