A loud cheer broke out in the room as Andre Russell of West Indies deposited an innocuous Kohli full toss into the stands for a six. The six not only sealed a victory for the belligerent West Indies cricket team in a world cup semi – final but also fulfilled a certain Kashmiri desire – the defeat of India. The desire grows out of the greater desire for Azadi from India, which occupies Kashmir. Minutes later, streets in many parts of Kashmir were lit up with firecrackers. It was our mauka. The past month Kashmiris had missed many moments to celebrate; either a Pakistani win or an Indian defeat in this cricket World Cup. None had come. Bangladesh came so much close to defeating India, that the loss in the final over was just so much heartbreaking. But West Indies reversed all that disappointment into joy by beating India in a semi-final.[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Supporting Pakistan is still fine, why support every single team who plays against India? Bangladesh. New Zealand. West Indies.[/pullquote]
My Facebook newsfeed was awash with celebratory posts by Kashmiris, cheering and thanking the West Indian cricket team for giving us this moment to celebrate. Some recalled the debacle of 1983, when India lost to West Indies in an international game in Kashmir. Kashmiris had cheered the West Indian team. ‘We felt like playing at home’, some of their players later remarked. Much to their befuddlement, the Indian players received a hostile treatment from the crowd. Booing and shouting at the Indian players, the crowd were displaying posters of Imran Khan and other Pakistani players – displaying to the world their love for the Pakistan team. The India captain Kapil Dev is said to have been aghast at the seaming pitch – India were bowled out for a paltry – that while reprimanding the pitch curator he called him a traitor.
Other important things happened in that dramatic cricket match; some Kashmiri young men dug the pitch in protest against playing an international match in a disputed territory. Some in Kashmir believe that episode to be the first public display of defiance against the Indian state. The cricket match became a site of a political arena where the demand for political rights was articulated through a symbolic act. I am not aware whether this was the first time in history when a sport was used to make a political demand. Other people might have done it. Kashmiris are perhaps the only ones who still do it. They do it whenever India and Pakistan plays. They do it whoever India plays against in a cricket match, or sometimes in hockey too.
What is the nature of this support for Pakistan cricket team? Supporting Pakistan is still fine, why support every single team who plays against India? Bangladesh. New Zealand. West Indies. The answer is both simple and also carries the seeds for understanding the Kashmiri movement for Azadi. India is the occupier to millions of Kashmirs, of whatever political orientation, which has forcibly denied Kashmiris their legitimate demand for self-determination. It has killed and raped and forcibly disappeared lakhs of Kashmiri people. Celebrating Indian defeat is to voice the demand for Azadi. It is to say that Kashmir is still not India, never will be, nor ever was.
The desire for Azadi is at the root of celebrating Indian defeat in cricket. In the context of the euphoria and nationalistic fervour that cricket creates in India, Kashmiris celebrating Indian defeat wants to dent this nationalistic frenzy and articulate that something is rotten in Indian nationalism. That there are still people forcibly tied to this nationalism who want nothing to do with. Those people are Kashmiris and cricket becomes a perfect site to contest and challenge their forcible inclusion with India. It gives a moment for a Kashmiri to witness and participate in an Indian defeat.
The defeat of India in cricket is also tied up with the question of Azadi for a Kashmiri. What is the purpose of Azadi for Kashmir? It’s to defeat India by ending its military occupation of Kashmir. It’s the primary purpose. Building a just and equal society no doubt accompanies it but it’s not gonna happen till Indian occupation is defeated and ended. And when India is defeated in cricket, Kashmiris like me celebrate it to point out that Kashmiris aren’t part of that defeat. That we would as much prefer that India’s brutal military occupation in Kashmir is defeated, than for Indian cricket team to lose. We wouldn’t care if India lose to China in a cricket match once Kashmir is free.