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It is time we took racism seriously on and off the field

Former West Indies captain Darren Sammy. File

Former West Indies captain Darren Sammy. File   | Photo Credit: V.V. Subrahmanyam

It has no place on the field or in the dressing room . There is no such thing as “affectionate racism.”

So now we know that Darren Sammy was called “kaalu” by his teammates in the IPL. There’s no way around it; this is a racially charged nickname, and no right-thinking person can condone it.

Even if it is hard to believe that Sammy wasn’t aware of meaning and context.

Still, he has brought to light an issue that we don’t feel comfortable dealing with.

Sammy is the first cricketer from the little island of St Lucia –— its other famous son is the poet and Nobel laureate Derek Walcott — to play for and then captain the West Indies. He is a man with a ready smile and a gentle air about him.

The International Cricket Council has in place an anti-racism policy, and countries like England have organisations and sensible rules to deal with racism. The ICC code applies to the Board of Control for Cricket in India and from March 2019, the IPL has adopted it too.

If a player makes a racist remark and is reported, he will pay a price. I am not sure if a statute of limitations applies in the Sammy case. Ishant Sharma’s Instagaram post referring to “kaalu” is from 2014. Doubtless there will be others. Casual racism disguised as affectionate name-calling is not new.

For racism has never been taken seriously in India. Even Gandhi was a racist early in his life. It was the prevailing orthodoxy then.

As his biographer Ramachandra Guha wrote, “In his twenties, Gandhi was unquestionably a racist. He believed in a hierarchy of civilizations, with Europeans at the top, Indians just below them, and Africans absolutely at the bottom. He spoke of the native inhabitants of Africa in patronizing and even pejorative language.”

But, as Guha also pointed out, “ (Gandhi) outgrew his racism quite decisively, and for most of his life he was an anti-racist, talking for an end to discrimination of all kinds.”

School children often called mates “blackie” or local versions of respective physical handicaps. Teachers didn’t always correct them, and sometimes called the students by such nicknames themselves. It is horrifying to think of that now.

Players from the West Indies have had insults hurled at them on Indian grounds. Sometimes with affection (as with some Indian cusswords), often in anger or frustration since these words and their variations are a part of the everyday vocabulary. “Tera kya hoga kaaliya?”, a famous line from a popular movie, was used indiscriminately.

Colour of skin

The misguided saw these as being descriptive rather than insulting. Dark-skinned Indians themselves have had to put up with it, as internationals Abhinav Mukund, Dodda Ganesh and Laxmipathy Balaji have said.

The issue in India isn’t racism per se, but colour of skin regardless of race. You only have to read our matrimonial advertisements to understand just how much importance we place on skin colour.

Things may be changing slowly, but a generation or two ago it didn’t matter whether a person was intelligent or smart or good-looking or well-salaried so long as he (or she) was fair complexioned.

The marriage market seemed to be flooded with the fair (there were short-hand expressions to indicate just how fair or dark a prospective bride or groom was).

But a refusal to acknowledge the hurt it causes and ignorance of the fact that the world has moved on, has meant that for many Indians, especially those guaranteed a degree of anonymity in big crowds, all is fair game.

Crowds can be brutal. At least one Indian player had a promising career cut short because he couldn’t handle offensive crowds when he fielded near the boundary. The chant was seen as part of the fun of attending a cricket match.

Players have been abused on the basis of colour, religion, home life; this was social media trolling in the days before social media. Players haven’t been innocent either. Australia’s Darren Lehmann used an expression against Kumar Sangakkara that should have called for a bigger punishment than a five-ODI ban.

Pakistan’s Sarfraz Khan’s diatribe against a Zimbabwe player was caught by the stump mike.

And Harbhajan Singh either did or did not use a racial slur against Andrew Symonds, depending on whom you believed, an act that nearly precipitated a crisis in Indo-Australia relations.

No crossing the line

It doesn’t need a knee on the throat that killed a man to remind us that colour does not matter. As more stories of demeaning conduct emerge, the ICC — and the BCCI — have the responsibility to ensure that behaviour, by players or fans, doesn’t cross a line.

For players, the consequences are laid out. For spectators, arrests, fines, and prison are ways to get the message across.

Racism has no place on the field or in the dressing room. There is no such thing as “affectionate racism.”

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Printable version | Jul 10, 2020 3:24:31 PM |

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