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Departments anathema to sport: The Tribune India

Rohit Mahajan

The idea of ​​organizing sport by religion or caste – for example, Christian vs. Sikh or Brahmin vs. Shudra – must repel and disgust us. It should be anathema to all rationalists and humanists, though it might have some appeal to the most regressive of people. But this is the dire state of division hockey — the pride of the subcontinental sport before 1947 and after — has been reduced to post-division.

That’s what the British did to India; Several historians have shown that the colonial rulers created Pakistan as a buffer state between the communists in the north and the socialist-leaning leadership in India. Jinnah demanded a state for the Muslims, but it was up to the authority of the British to give it or not – they chose a partition that suited their interests and those of the feudal lords of western Punjab and Sindh. The bloody breakup hurt India and left a horrible impression on the sport as well.

This was a deep cut into the heart of hockey in undivided India. The 1948 Indian team had two Muslims – Akhtar Hussain and Latif-ur-Rehman – who later moved to Pakistan and won silver medals for that country in 1956. The Indian teams at the Olympic Games in 1952, 1956 and 1960 consisted exclusively of Hindus, Sikhs and Christians. The Pakistani teams were monolithic Muslim. Against the backdrop of the first Kashmir War, matches between multicultural, multi-religious Indian teams and the monolithic Pakistani teams aroused tribal sentiments.

Indian society has always been terribly divided by caste and religion. This suited the British, who did nothing to discourage the organization of sport along communal or caste lines. Cricket in India, for example, had its roots in social or regional divisions, as evidenced by the names of clubs founded in Bombay in the 19th century: Kshatriya Cricket Club, Gowd Saraswat Cricket Club, Maratha Cricket Club, Gujarati Union Cricket Club, Telugu Young Cricketers , Mangalorian Catholic Cricket Club, Instituto Luso Indian Cricket Club (it had players from Portuguese-ruled Goa) or the Bombay Jewish Cricket Club.

The Parsi, Hindu, and Muslim gymkhanas received land from Lord Harris and were “charged with the supervision and development of the numerous smaller clubs under their jurisdiction,” writes historian Ramchandra Guha.

It is extraordinary – and a sad commentary on the state of Indian polity – that in Bombay, the nursery of Indian cricket, until the 1940s cricket was organized on communal lines: matches were held between Europeans, Parsis, Hindus, Muslims and others, from 1937, the ‘rest’; The “rest” appears to be an inclusive entity, represented at different times by Indian Catholics, Protestants and Syriac Christians, Eurasians, Sinhala Buddhists and Jews.

In 1940, when the independence movement was gaining ground and Mahatma Gandhi launched a Satyagraha, there were calls to stop cricket in Bombay. Gandhi told Hindu Gymkhana officials that he didn’t like the idea of ​​communal teams: “I can understand games between colleges and institutions, but I’ve never understood the reason for having Hindus, Parsi, Muslims and other communal elves. I should have thought that such unsportsmanlike divisions in sports language and manners would be considered taboo.”

Such classifications – based on imaginary gods and imaginary pasts – are indeed unnatural and unsportsmanlike. Gandhi was right.

broken bond

The bonds between teammates transcend social constructs, but catastrophic events like the division can sever them.

Grahanandan Singh, better known as Nandy Singh, was born in Lyallpur, now Faisalabad, in 1926. His best friends in college were Keshav Dutt, Amir Kumar and Muhammad Shahzada Shahrukh. An inseparable quartet – a Sikh, two Hindus and a Muslim – who were brilliant at hockey. They’ve won all before them – college and university tournaments, then the national championships of India when they played for Punjab. The partition separated them, and Nandy, Dutt and Kumar had to leave their homeland and move east.

Dutt never forgot to be helped by Shahrukh. “The political situation had deteriorated extremely. As the sun went down, religious chants began, slowly getting louder. And then there was shooting. Sleeping at night became impossible,” Dutt said in a documentary, Taangh, which was directed by Nandy’s daughter, Bani.

“Shahrukh stayed with me for a few nights because I was scared and couldn’t sleep. Eventually he brought his uncle’s car or whatever he did I don’t know. And then he took me to Lahore railway station and sent me away. Must have paid for my ticket as well,” Dutt said.

All four played in the Olympics – three for India, one for Pakistan. Nandy, Dutt, Kumar won gold for India in 1948 and 1952; Shahrukh, who played for Pakistan, returned home empty-handed in 1948 after losing the bronze medal playoffs to the Netherlands.

Dutt never returned to his beloved Lahore. He said the friendship with Shahrukh broke up “not because we wanted to break it, but because the political situation had become extremely bad”.

In 75 years of India-Pakistan there have been some memorable highs and no deeper lows than the religious chants during Sharjah cricket matches in the 1980s. Let’s hope there will be only ups and no downs in the 25 years until the 100th anniversary of independence.

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