These Indian cricketers have it so easy. They get paid crores of rupees for things they do on the field and things they do off the field. They drive around in swanky cars and live in palatial houses served by liveried staff.
They also have their houses stoned, their effigies burned, their partners blamed for a bad day in the field and then there’s this: issue of a non-bailable warrant for a 'morphed' image that portrays Mahendra Singh Dhoni as the Hindu deity Vishnu, holding branded shoes and what not.
There are several things wrong with this situation. Firstly, the FIR in this case was registered in 2013 in an overly burdened justice system. Secondly, it is mildly disturbing that a High Court judge does not understand the difference between an advertisement and the cover of a magazine while passing a moral judgment. Thirdly, the absurdity of thinking that a two-thousand-year-old religion truly not withstand the ‘onslaught’ represented by the image in question. Fourthly, the implication that India’s most successful cricket captain has no regard for the sentiments of the people of India’s majority religion when he belongs to it himself (or should that be Himself?).
And lastly, this validates the defense of all things Hindu by one Y Shyam Sunder, a gentleman from Vishwa Hindu Parishad who identifies himself as a staunch believer of Hinduism and Indian culture.
There is no question that there is a higher burden on those in the public domain to behave responsibly. Yet, when we hold them to unreal standards is when it is time to question the fabric of our society.
Who hasn’t had a bad day in the workplace when things didn’t go as to plan? Which one of us hasn’t been told that we’re overpaid? Yet, almost all of us have never had a single person, let alone a mob hurling projectiles at our house. It’s a national shame when our team underperforms in a tournament, yet you can bet your bottom rupee that not one person from that mob will let their daughter or son choose cricket over their academic careers.
The word intolerance has been bandied about a fair bit these last few weeks but to be fair, this legal case has roots in 2013. Yet, just like current times, how a seminally open and all-encompassing culture can be threatened or hurt by this depiction (shoe or without a shoe) remains a mystery. However, it’s unlikely that this point will get a fair discussion regardless of the forum.
Most cricketers in Dhoni’s position wouldn’t have thought twice about doing the same, yet very few will actually defend his rights or that he is innocent of intent. That is a scary thought. The absence of a dissenting voice of reason will strike cricket and we shall be hurled onto a bouncy pitch which will assist anyone bowling into the rib cage of the rational Indian.
This incident, especially the fact that a non-bailable warrant has been issued, will also help encourage those seeking attention. Those ‘social workers’ who believe it is their democracy-given right to use the legal process to clog the pipes of the Indian judiciary with cases that really do nothing to better society.
The best case scenario is that this is all proven hopelessly wrong.
The worst case scenario is that the next Sania Mirza will be even more victimized and that the next time we lose a cricket series overseas, television sets are smashed under the full glare of the cameras of the Indian press.
The part played by our colleagues in the media in creating this scenario cannot be underestimated. Imagine if we didn’t cover, debate and then follow up every frivolous PIL or complaint against a celebrity -- and yes, in the view of this writer, this one is frivolous.
Imagine the freedom that might afford a judge to dismiss the case from her or his docket rather than have to justify ‘public sentiments’. Imagine the complete lack of motivation for the ‘culture police’ to act. That is about as likely to happen as a Test victory at the WACA, Perth. Yet, it did happen eight years ago under Anil Kumble's captaincy, so there might be hope for our friends in the media still.
It can be argued, probably correctly, that such a depiction of icons in other religions might have caused far more violent reactions. However, if we’re going to argue that cricket is also a religion in India, then this too, is no way to treat a cricketing deity.
The author is a former sports journalist and a current brand communications consultant