On Matters That Matter

The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones

My Guru Is More Enlightened Than Yours!

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A few days ago Suhel Seth was animated on a Times Now ‘Newshour’ debate about the growing violence against Indians in Australia. He had ample reason to be upset; but in his impatience he did not let a significant point being made by another person on the show to sink in. On being asked to define racism, Suhel quickly retorted that racism is an attack on a particular race and then did not listen when the other participant completed it by saying that by a supposedly different race; which was the whole point he was trying to explain. Some of these attacks he said were by mixed gangs and were more criminal in nature than racist and some others were clearly racist by nature.

Most societies have ways of being self-critical and looking within when a crisis emerges; and a shrill and jingoistic response never helps in solving the problem. It is a matter of concern that Indian students find themselves vulnerable in Sydney and Melbourne but it is also true that Australia has accepted that there are pockets of racism in the country, which they are trying to address, but that does not mean that the entire nation is racist. We should resist using a single paintbrush to colour the entire nation.

There is also a very competitive rivalry between India and Australia on the cricket field and the players have a fan following and a genuine admiration in the rival camps. Shane Warne has come forward to facilitate better understanding and it is a move that should be complemented in every possible manner. The cricket players are brand ambassadors and the likes of Steve Waugh, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Adam Gilchrist, for example, can come forward to ease the relationship. The world now is a global village and efforts that reduce human conflict are the ones that count the most in preventing crime—racial or otherwise.

In 2007, India won the Twenty20 World Cup and MS Dhoni and his boys were received by a cavalcade of thousands and thousands of fans as the team moved in an open-top double-decker bus from the airport to Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium. Andrew Symonds did not like the ‘over-the-top’ celebrations and he was in India as part of the Aussie squad for a seven-match ODI series.

On September 28, 2007 Cricinfo reported: “Something has been sparked inside of me, watching them carry on over the last few days,” Symonds told AAP. “We have had a very successful side and I think watching how we celebrate and how they celebrate, I think we have been pretty humble in the way we have gone about it. And personally, I think they have got far too carried away with their celebrations. It has definitely sparked passion inside of us. It has certainly spiced it up as well.”

“Something gets triggered inside of you, something is burning inside of you—it is your will for success or your animal instinct that wants to bring another team down,” Symonds said. “We have been at the top for so long, it is like someone has taken the favourite thing you own from you and you want it back.”

It wasn’t a quote that can be termed as wise but that is no excuse either for crowd behaviour or for BCCI’s denial mode when incidents offensive towards Symonds were reported. A cricket blogger rightly observed: Niranjan Shah, the BCCI secretary, went so far as to say, “What the media and Symonds shouldn’t forget is that the Australian crowds are far more dangerous and volatile than their Indian counterparts.” Even if this were true, what does this have to do with the price of fish in the land? There is a principle at play here: Racisim in cricket in India is not on!

Another report in Fox Sports concluded: “Racism is evil, repulsive and the sport should confront it head-on wherever it is encountered. India is enjoying its new power and influence. Along with other black nations, it had been patronised by pompous English and ignorant Australians. Revenge should not be so ruthless and ungenerous that a game is made unmanageable. India, with its many millions of dollars, has the power and opportunity to restore cricket. It just doesn’t appear to have the leaders.”

Symonds later said that he had gone to the Indian dressing room and spoken to Harbhajan Singh one-on-one to make it clear that the word ‘monkey’ is offensive, denigrating and a racial slur in his terminology (this is the essence of it and not the exact words). It was a charged ODI series and Symonds performed brilliantly and Hayden had a mouthful of things to say.

Many writers in India expressed that the crowd behaviour was obnoxious and India owed Symonds an apology. The Cricket Board pretended as if nothing had happened. If there was any doubt that the man found it offensive then it was cleared in this tour and there was no ambiguity regarding the connotation.
In the Sydney Test in January, the stump mike revealed nothing and match referee Mike Procter had no legal authority to rule when it was one man’s word against the other. It later came out that no one was close enough to hear the exact words. Eminent economist Lord Meghnad Desai, professor emeritus of the London School of Economics, in a recent article traced the origin of the conflict to the fractured Sydney Test. “I would ask the two governments to get the two cricketing sides together and appeal to all to view the matter in the spirit of cricket, where winning or losing was never meant to matter.”

Regarding the result of the Sydney Test, Pradeep Magazine of the Hindustan Times wrote, “Despite all the wrongs done to them on the field, India could have still salvaged a draw and been in a much stronger position to take a high moral ground and tell the umpires and the Australians of what they thought of them”

The Australian media, let us not forget, acknowledged that India was hard done in Sydney and the criticism only started when the BCCI apparently went muscle flexing. Harbhajan may well have used abusive language and not the racial slur as the word he admitted to having used is part of the common north Indian lingo. And the word points towards an abuse but rarely borders on the actual abuse that requires adding one more word. Bastards are sad creatures in India but you can easily call someone a lucky bastard in many cultures. People all around the world need to learn and be sensitive to other people’s cultures.

The television coverage showed Symonds giving a mouthful while going towards his fielding position and he may well have been goading Harbhajan, ‘with his animal instincts’, for all you know. Ian Chappell in the commentary box expressed concern over Hayden’s qualification as a peacemaker and the incident occurred when Harbhajan was involved in a significant partnership with Tendulkar that was proving out to be a thorn for the Aussies.

The crowds and media and some of the Aussie players took to riling Bhajji in every match after that; but the turbaned Sikh is a strong character who used it to perform against the odds on the field. As the months rolled by and seeing the path that the careers of the two players took since Sydney, one can say, with some bias, that in the Symonds-Harbhajan affair it was the plaintiff who came out looking worse than the defendant. Hayden went on air calling Bhajji an ‘obnoxious little weed’ and later Symonds woke up to realise that ‘the devil had farted in his face’ after he called Brendon McCullum a ‘lump of shit’; this time again on a radio show.

I do agree with Mike Selvey of the Guardian that despite everything Symonds deserves sympathy and not scorn. “Symonds may not be the most pleasant of men (I have no way of knowing but anecdotal evidence suggests as much) but that should not be the criterion. He is a troubled individual who needs ongoing support and, judging by the words of Anderson (psychologist), is already benefiting from it. A stitch-up by a pair of goading comedians should not see a man lose his career. The consequences of the alternative, dumping him, are too unedifying to consider.”

Andrew Symonds is too good a cricketer to be lost in fighting inner demons and it would be heartening if his career is salvaged. As for racism, it is a global problem and if we could all begin with ourselves first the results will be faster and more peaceful. Have you heard that great joke where a disciple is fighting another one on the premise that ‘my guru is more enlightened than yours’.

These are a few good links to follow.

Crowd Carry On Over Harbhajan—Greg Baum for The Age

Are We Racist? You Know The Answer Already—Vir Sanghvi for Mint

Bowler Found Guilty But Australia Stand Condemned—David Hopps for the Guardian

Booze-addled Symonds deserves sympathy not scorn—Mike Selvey for the Guardian

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