It’s been five days now since Daren Sammy opened up about attracting racial comments during his days at Sunrisers Hyderabad. The former West Indies skipper, who represented the franchise in 2013 and 2014 and captained them in the last four of his 20 appearances over those two seasons, has revealed that what he thought the word kalu meant (strong stallion) was entirely different from what it actually represents. Those of us who might scoff at this misinterpretation must understand that it’s a word we have been exposed to all our lives – and never in a nice way – while it was an entirely alien term at the time for the man from St Lucia.
The cricket world is still feeling the aftershocks of Sammy’s Instagram post that shook everyone out of a pandemic-induced reverie. It needed the voice of a two-time World T20 winning captain, it would seem, to draw attention to the unacceptable comments. Just a few days previously, similar assertions by former India internationals Abhinav Mukund and Dodda Ganesh of being at the receiving end of racial jibes all but slipped under the radar. As had Abhinav’s recitations of his experiences as far back as in 2017.
Uncalled for questions have been raised over the timing of Sammy’s statements, with the attendant barb that he has only opened out now since he is superfluous to the IPL scheme of things. That’s as unpardonable as the use of the offensive word in the first place, never mind if the intent of the as-yet-unnamed users was anything but malicious. There can’t be a statute of limitations on something as serious as racism; when Sammy opts to talk about it is his, and entirely his, prerogative.
A fair share of us Indians might be inclined to think what the fuss is all about. After all, this is something we have practically grown up with. We don’t think twice before referring to someone by their colour or size. It’s come to be such an accepted phenomenon that, oftentimes, it appears as if those thus addressed seem to have no complaints either. But just because someone doesn’t complain openly doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. Or that it is alright to make such insensitivity a part of our everyday existence.
Sammy’s isn’t the first instance of a player being subjected to racist remarks within the confines of the same team. Just from a cricketing standpoint, regional translations of the word ‘black’ are casually used to refer to individuals even in domestic cricket. In local and first-class cricket, these are more prevalent than one might imagine. More than a decade back in a Ranji Trophy game at the Chinnaswamy Stadium, the fielding captain appealed for bad light, telling the umpire, “The bowler can’t even see where the batsman is standing…” You can guess how that sentence would have ended.
Lest we should get the wrong idea, this isn’t a problem exclusive to India, to cricket, or to cricket in India. Aakash Chopra, the former Indian opener, has said he was disparagingly called ‘Paki’ by two opposition players of South African descent when he was playing league cricket in England, clarifying that Paki wasn’t short for Pakistani as generally believed but a derogatory term to refer to all players from Asia or of Asian descent. Football is replete with instances of fans primarily, and opponents occasionally, not thinking twice before unleashing verbals with racist overtones; other sport aren’t immune either. It’s a shame that in 2020, we should even have to talk about such an issue, but then again, 2020 has been a watershed year which could yet be a defining period in human history.
George Floyd’s tragic demise in Minneapolis more than a fortnight back, a direct consequence of a policeman’s knee on his neck long after he had passed out after complaining that he couldn’t breathe, has set off a chain of events across the globe that should, hopefully, help sensitise people so indifferent to such a fundamental topic. That the police officer was white and Floyd wasn’t, reinvigorated the Black Lives Matter movement. Dwayne Bravo succinctly put it the other day, “We never ask for revenge. We ask for equality and respect. That’s it.” It’s a damning indictment of society that in this day and age, equality and respect has to be asked for by ‘black people’, as Bravo has called them.
For too long now, we have lived in a bubble of feigned innocence, if not ignorance, seeking to justify words/acts of discrimination on the basis of colour and body size or shape especially by hiding behind ‘no mal-intent’ and ‘just like that’. That ought never to have cut ice ever, it surely doesn’t cut ice now. As people, we have greater exposure to and understanding of the global village that the world, as envisioned by Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan, has become. No one needs to tell us anymore that colour or caste, creed or religion, makes anyone less or more equal, respected, significant, important. And yet, here we are.
How blasé we are as a country to racism, in particular, is evidenced by the reactions to taunts of ‘Monkey’ aimed at Andrew Symonds by frenzied spectators during ODI matches in Vadodara and Mumbai in 2007. A senior functionary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India dismissed the prospect of any racist slant to that chant by going to the extent of pointing out that Hanuman, the monkey God, is revered and worshipped in India. Was it any surprise that Monkeygate exploded in Sydney the following January? Really?
Given how deep-rooted at all levels the feeling of inequality is in our country, to rid our international systems of racial bias will necessitate a long haul. The transformation won’t be overnight, but we have to make a start, so why not now? By telling our children, our future, what’s right and what’s not. But, before that, first understanding ourselves what is acceptable and what is a strict no-no. Perhaps ask ourselves how we would feel if we were to be at the receiving end. And then take it from there. Simplistic, maybe, to drive a revolutionary, systemic change but a start nevertheless, a start that we can exponentially build on.
Sport, it’s not said without reason, holds the mirror up to society. Arguably, there’s no greater unifier in India than cricket; its responsibility now is not just to strive to eradicate racism from within its ambit, but also set the example that the country will strive to emulate. Winning matches can wait, for now, the immediate priority has to be to chisel thought processes and consequently win hearts. If cricket can begin to accomplish that, Daren Sammy can proudly claim to be at the heart of the imperative revolution.
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