Although official diplomatic channels seem to be doing little to mend India-Pakistan relations, sportspersons have taken it upon themselves to talk about harmony to prevent hatred.
File photo of Babar Azam and Virat Kohli. (Source: Babar Azam/Twitter)
New Delhi: Every August brings fresh reminders of the brutal Partition that tore apart families and communities in 1947 as people moved across the borders to find safety in India and Pakistan. It is surprising to see how deep these partisan wounds run, and the volume of Partition literature that is relentlessly produced every year is testimony to that. I try to keep myself from being hard on myself, but it’s hard, so I focus my attention on stories of love, friendship and relationships. They offer a way to craft a new and promising future.
Although official diplomatic channels seem to be doing little to improve relations, sportsmen in India and Pakistan have pledged to talk about harmony to prevent hatred. Hockey players include Benish Hayat, javelin throwers Neeraj Chopra and Arshad Nadeem, cricketers Virat Kohli and Babar Azam, badminton player Murad Ali, and weightlifters Gurdeep Singh and Nooh Dastgir Butt.
Hayat, a Pakistan-born former international hockey player who umpired at the recent Commonwealth Games, became an instant ambassador for the cross-border initiative when she celebrated India’s victory over New Zealand. In an interview, Hayat revealed that she is praying for the Indian team to win. She said, “Leave the politicians alone. We are all one. We have to support each other. They (Indian women’s hockey team) are our sisters. They were proud of all Asia. “It requires a generous heart to rejoice in the professional achievements of the team that also competes.
Neeraj Chopra and Arshad Nadeem’s photo went viral in 2018. AFP
Chopra’s friendship with Nadeem is legendary. After Chopra won a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics, he stood by Nadeem and asked Indian fans to refrain from spreading any hateful propaganda about his Pakistani teammate. Chopra tweeted, “Sports teach us to be together and unite.” He also posted a video, saying, “Hum apas mein pyaar se rehte hain, achhe se baat karte hain, koi bhi aisi baat na karein jisse humein thes pohonche.” (“We have great love for each other, please don’t do anything to hurt us.”)
I am asking everyone to join me and teach me to stay together with my comments, and it is important to know the rules of the game before commenting 🙏🏽 pic.twitter.com/RLv96FZTd2
— Neeraj Chopra (@Neeraj_chopra1) August 26, 2021
They did not compete in the recent Commonwealth Games as Chopra had to sit out due to a groin problem. Instead of being proud of this news, Nadeem gave a beautiful speech in public. He said, “Neeraj bhai is my brother. I miss him here. God bless him and I will compete with him soon.” Chopra echoed this gesture. When Nadeem won the gold medal, Chopra took to Twitter to congratulate him “Arshad bhai” and wished him well in future competitions.
Thank you. Keep shining and rising. I wish you all the best 👏
— Virat Kohli (@imVkohli) July 16, 2022
Kohli and Azam are known to lead by example when it comes to respecting their competitors. Their love is palpable in their pictures together. Last month, when Kohli walked out on his poor one-day score against England, Azam posted a picture of them on Twitter and wrote, “This too shall pass. Be strong.” He spoke openly about the need to support and encourage players when their form is poor. Indians loved Azam and Pakistanis were proud of him because of the way he behaved. Kohli replied, “Thank you. Give it to me.” Shine bright and rise high. I wish you all the best.”
To criticize Sarfaraz for not speaking English is crazy. His job is to play & he did brilliantly with 2 trophies against Pak in the final #StopColonialMindset
— Virender Sehwag (@virendersehwag) June 17, 2017
In 2017, when Pakistani cricketer Sarfaraz Ahmed was brutally criticized for his inability to speak English, Indian cricketer Virender Sehwag appeared as Ahmed’s ally. He tweeted, “Criticizing Sarfaraz for not speaking English is crazy. His job is to play and he did brilliantly with 2 Pak in the final #StopColonialMindset.” As Sehwag rightly points out, the culture of patronizing and bullying non-native speakers of English is common among elites in both Pakistan and India.
At the recent Commonwealth Games, Pakistani badminton player Murad Ali spoke about his desire to come and play in India. According to Ali, badminton as a sport is underfunded in Pakistan and it is very difficult for players to participate in international competitions. He hopes for a day when Pakistani badminton players will easily participate in international badminton tournaments held in India.
Butt and Singh, the heavyweight champions of Pakistan and India respectively, have also contributed significantly to the online hatred between the citizens of the two countries. As players, they are role models for the youth, what they say is important. In an interview, Singh talked about how Punjabi, their common language, helped strengthen their friendship. Their taste in music is another related factor. They love the music of rapper Sidhu Moose Wwala shot in May.
Butt fondly remembered his visits to Pune and Guwahati. He said, “The kind of love that India has given me, no other country has given me. I have more fans in India from Pakistan than the weightlifting community. As I was leaving the hotel in Guwahati, the staff and volunteers cried. It made me emotional.”
Butt also made a public statement about his admiration for Indian heavyweight Mirabai Chanu, who won a silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics. The tail draws inspiration from her. People on both sides of the conflict need to listen to such stories, to find out what is beyond the prejudice of the other color.
ATP 500 ACAPULCO : BOPANNA/QURESHI READY TO GO AGAIN
Indo-Pak Express, featuring 🇮🇳Rohan Bopanna & 🇵🇰Aisam Qureshi, will take the 2nd seed 🇬🇧Murray/🇧🇷Soares pic.twitter.com/nAWFyBlbWn
— Indian Tennis Daily (ITD) (@IndTennisDaily) March 14, 2021
Last year, Rohan Bopanna and Aisam-ul-Haq, tennis players from India and Pakistan, respectively, played as the “Indo-Pak Express” in Mexico. Fans from both countries were delighted with their commitment to peace in the “Stop War, Start Tennis” campaign that was launched in 2010 and also won the Arthur Ashe Humanitarian Award. The match was lost but to have India and Pakistan on the same team was what a victory it was.
All these amazing people show us that the playground doesn’t need to be a battlefield. India and Pakistan have been fighting for decades and it is time to start a new chapter in our relationship. Our conflict lives on at a great human cost on both sides. The next generations of both countries deserve to live without fear, and good neighbors. We can’t pretend that we don’t have the baggage of history, but we must hold hands and walk towards a happy future where there is no place for nepotism and cruelty.
Chintan Girish Modi is a writer, journalist and tweets @chintanwriting
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