Americans like to think we’re big sports fans. We share camaraderie, drinks, and drunken stories over sports.
We taunt, we yell, and we fight with fans of opposing teams.
We are nothing compared to India.
While Americans get engaged in individual scrapes, India has organized fanaticism when it comes to their favorite sport of cricket.
The Indian national team recently squared off against rival Pakistan in a… match? An outing? A tea party? I don’t know what cricket games are called, and, quite frankly, I don’t want to know.
At any rate, India and Pakistan have been at odds since the nations were partitioned in 1947 by the British which had ruled the region. There have been four wars, multiple skirmishes, and plenty of standoffs. Their fight is largely over Kashmir, which both sides claim as their own, and which is currently controlled by India.
The game, therefore, is always of special significance to these two countries. This particular shindig was won by Pakistan.
Some 66 students from Kashmir at a university elsewhere in India were Pakistan supporters. They became excited when their favored side triumphed, and celebrated as sports fans are wont to do in such circumstances.
The local supporters of the Indian side took umbrage with this turn of events and hurled insults, and eventually stones, at the Pakistan fans.
Thankfully, the police soon showed up. They collected the Pakistan fans and drove them to the bus station, so they could ride back to their homes more than 500 miles away. The fans who threw stones were not arrested, but the university did expel the students.
Sorry if that was unclear. The university expelled the 66 Pakistan supporters.
Once word of this situation reached Indian officials though, some decided the expulsions weren’t the proper reaction to the situation. Because it didn’t go far enough. The now former students were threatened with sedition charges.
Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed, such as belonged to the chief minister of northern Uttar Pradesh state, which I figure is probably where the university is, but I don’t even know how to look that up. Akhilesh Yadav told state officials that the students should not face sedition charges, which carry possible life sentences. The reasoning given was that the students probably didn’t understand the gravity of their actions.
Those in Kashmir were far more understanding. Cheering for the Pakistan team there was common, and firecrackers were lit often in the wake of the contest’s result. There were also chants of “Long Live Pakistan” and “We Want Freedom” which should probably be settled by something other than a cricket hootenanny.
The top elected official in the Indian portion of Kashmir was also more understanding and practical when calling for the sedition charges to be dropped. Omar Abdullah said those charges would ruin the students’ futures and further alienate them. Abdullah explained his thoughts further in an interview:
“I don’t condone what they did, what they did was obviously wrong and misguided. That having been said, they are young … (Sedition charges) will further push them to the fringes.”
Yes, it could push them further to the fringes. They might start cheering for the Pakistani curling team.
So while there is no consensus on how far the punishment should go, or what the potential unintended consequences of those punishments would be, at least everyone in India is in agreement that these students cheering for their favorite sports team is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad thing.
While the threats of sedition charges have been dropped (at least for now), the students have a possible escape still available. The Pakistan government has issued a statement saying they would welcome the students with open hearts and institutions of higher learning. The only catch, I guess, is that they wouldn’t have an American call center job waiting for them upon graduation.
So yes, American sports fans, maybe you got drunk when your team won the championship. Maybe you yelled and chanted long into the night, making a public nuisance of yourself. Maybe you even got extremely caught up in the excitement and joined in on a riot, destroying property along the way. But I doubt you were ever threatened with sedition and a possible lifetime in jail. Prepare yourself so you do better next time, okay? We can’t let a fandom gap like this exist.