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Freedom of Speech in India

March 7, 2014

There has been much debate about the subtle curtailing of Freedom of Speech in India. There have been arrests of various reporters and cartoonists for making statements against various political leaders. People have been arrested for posting simple status messages. 

Books about Hinduism have been voluntarily withdrawn by publishers, fearing a backlash. 

The most recent case is about a bunch of Kashmiri students who were booked under sedition for cheering Pakistan during a cricket match. A match that India lost. There have been a lot of tweets against this move, calling this an act against the basic right of freedom of speech. And actually, in general circumstances, I would have been as well. I mean, it is a sport, and they were cheering for the opposing team, so what the hell.

But an India-Pakistan cricket match has never been just sport. While I might not support a sedition case, I am definitely not okay with consciousness behind this. The cricket match between India and Pakistan has always taken on momentous proportions. It is the one chance for the common man to participate in the hate game towards each other. Do we really hate each other? Would we beat up a Pakistani if we encounter him? Or call him names? Perhaps not. But a match between these two countries involves religion and a whole bunch of animosity. 

And when it involves Kashmir – a valued and disputed area, it is a potential landmine. It is no secret that the two nations have been fighting for Kashmir since Bharath was divided in Hindustan and Pakistan. India has always maintained that Kashmir belongs to us, and the people of Jammu & Kashmir are very content to be a part of us. Now, I cannot speak for those people. I’ve never even visited there and all the people I’ve met from the region are people who’ve moved away generations ago. 

So the Kashmiris face additional pressure of always showing whose side they are on – India or Pakistan. They do not have the liberty to even cheer for an opposing team (if that is Pakistan) because that we are constantly fearing that it could show the population’s inclination towards Pakistan. Everyone looks for hidden messages in every statement. Of course, the Pakistani government did not lose any time in taking advantage of the entire situation by inviting the students in study in Pakistan.

Indians have always been passionate about cricket. If you choose to support England or Australia during match against India, you will be subject to a lot of ribbing from the others. But perhaps you will not be stabbed because there are no other connotations to supporting those teams. It does not speak of a conflicting religious affiliation. It cannot be used as a political lever by the powers above. 

A Kashmiri blog said ” I wonder if a boss, who is a Manchester United fan, will fire a Liverpool fan who is his employee just because MU lost the game against Liverpool. This is hilariously absurd.”

It would be absurd, if one did not take into account the other sentiments behind India and Pakistan. If you were living in England, your boss might not fire you but he would definitely make your life a little harder for a while. When Australia lost to Italy in the Football World Cup a few years ago, the Italians walked around proudly, but very cautiously. They did not want to particularly tell anyone they were Italian till the Australians regained their good-humored sporting nature. 

I wonder if the author of the blog has ever been to a pub in Europe when a football match is on. The scene can get quite crazy. Rivarly between sporting teams has always been around, and all politics and religion into that and it is a definite receipe for disaster.

But the blog very clearly lists why this match and the following reactions are so important. Supporting Pakistan has always been Kashmir’s way of showing rebellion against India. True, they would rather not be a part of either nation and would exist as an independent little country. But what do they really want? If the elections of 2008 were any indication, they would rather be a part of India.

If the riots of 2010 were any indication, they would rather be independent. I really have no authority to comment on this subject. Kashmiri Pandits I’ve met mourn the loss of their state and talk about childhood days in Kashmir. Kashmiri Muslims I’ve met talk about the harassment by armed forces. But both have a common sentiment – the destruction of this land over territorial fights.

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