When India’s cricket team lost last Sunday’s key match against Pakistan in the T20 World Cup in Dubai, Indian fans turned to social media to passionately vent their anger.
Much of this was directed at fast-paced bowler Mohammad Shami – the only Muslim player in India’s 15-member World Cup team – who has been subjected to fierce trolling and abuse online.
Social media users accused him of deliberately leaking races in Pakistan and called him “a traitor and an anti-national”.
As the attack escalated, many people, including cricket veterans Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag, spoke out in support of Shami. And the Indian Cricket Board tweeted a photo of Shami along with team captain Virat Kohli, who has so far refrained from commenting on the controversy.
Also Kohli’s wife and the Bollywood actress Anushka Sharma she was trolled heavily – as she has been in the past – as angry fans blamed her for the loss of the Indian team.
Last week’s match was extraordinary: Pakistan not only beat India in a World Cup match after 29 years, but beat their arch rivals by 10 wickets clinically and emphatically.
When Captain Kohli congratulated his Pakistani counterparts after the game, photographers fervently captured the bittersweet moment and many social media users are thrilled. Some have described it as an expression of rare sportsmanship, which remains intact from the political flaws that underlie the ties between the two nuclear-armed neighbors.
But soon, the online abuse took over and the disparaging messages to and about Shami started making the rounds.
As this happened, news came that several Kashmiri students would be attacked in the northern state of Punjab for celebrating Pakistan’s victory. Since then, many more people, all Muslims, have been arrested, some of whom have been charged under a draconian anti-terrorism law for speaking, writing or sharing messages in support of Pakistan.
- India arrests Muslims for cheering on the Pakistani team
In the past, passionate and fuel cricket fans smashed televisions, threw stones at players’ homes and burned their effigies when their team lost. But as online abuse becomes the dominant form of release, many worry about the toxicity cricketers face on social media.
Sports writer Sharda Ugra said much of the kind of physical response the effigy burns was generated by political parties seeking traction, which was subsequently amplified by the rise of television media.
But social media has changed the concept of boos, throwing objects on the pitch and burning effigies “into something much more vicious”.
Cricket writer Ayaz Memon says social media trolls find strength in being anonymous.
“With the Internet, there are no geographical limits: an angry fan can throw rocks at my house, but it is localized,” he said. “But if you attack me online, you can attack me wherever you are.”
A cricket match between India and Pakistan continues to be one of the biggest sports draws and the most bitter rivalries.
Arch-rivals rarely play outside of big tournaments due to political tensions. Patriotic loyalty is at its peak as people on both sides of the border flock to flickering TV screens to watch what is, perhaps, the most politically charged derby.
But it’s not just about Pakistan. In 2009, angry Indian fans burned the effigies of former captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni after the team failed to defend their T20 World Cup title in England. And when India lost the 2014 T20 final to Sri Lanka, disappointed fans threw stones at the home of handyman Yuvraj Singh.
Experts say much of this fanaticism has diminished over time. Mr. Memon says this may be because the Indian team have done exceptionally well over the past 10 years.
India dominated world cricket during this period and entered the tournament as a clear favorite to lift the trophy. Their record against Pakistan in the ICC World Cup events was also phenomenal: as of last Sunday, India had won all 11 World Cup matches against its neighbor.
Ms. Ugra says India’s performance has been particularly good overseas, which may have led to a drop in extreme behavior. But at the same time, there has been an increase in “direct in any form and to anyone” online abuse.
Cricketers have been able to use social media for commercial reasons – they gain followers and become influencers, he says.
“But the downside is this kind of trolling and abuse, which is almost like a hobby for some. It almost became this horrible demon that the Indian fan changed into – because all this macho mentality of ‘we give it back’ is arrived in. ”
Memon states that this change also has to do with the culture of indignation.
“People are more nervous, more touchy, less patient and more demanding,” he explains. “You lose a game and it’s the end of the world”.
Hyper-nationalism and chauvinism during a cricket match in India are not uncommon. But as anger moves online, experts say it is becoming “more aggressive and ingrained.”
“Cricket has always been used as a political currency on both sides of the border,” said Ms. Ugra.
“Television was also unnecessarily aggressive when it came to losing the Indian team. But that mentality has now translated into a scapegoating culture on social media.”
Indian handyman Irfan Pathan has also recently spoken out against it. “I too have been part of the #IndvsPak battles on the pitch where we lost but we were never told to go to Pakistan! I’m talking about India a few years ago,” he tweeted.
– Irfan Pathan (@IrfanPathan) October 25, 2021
According to Memon, the changes are “a reflection of the times we live in”.
“Whatever we have seen happening in Shami is unrelated to cricket,” he said. “Anyone with even an ounce of cricket intelligence knows that a bad performance means nothing: that guy has a fantastic record.”
The situation, he says, is not “black or white” in which all the people, disappointed by the loss of India, will hurl insults and invectives at Shami or even the team.
“He is targeted by a certain profile of people for a different agenda.”
Ms. Ugra adds that this type of trolling is the result of the “normalization of minority abuse by the ruling establishment.”
- Beaten and humiliated for being a Muslim in India
- The Hindu song that has become a cry of murder
“The tragedy is that now the team is afraid to even say the right thing to defend a teammate. I don’t doubt for a moment that as active sportsmen, they are all very impartial and support each other. But they don’t have the confidence. necessary to do the right thing in public, “he says.
- Online abuse
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