Farmers' protest: Indian athletes continue to show no desire to become champions of people's rights

To expect the sporting fraternity to stand up for the right to free speech of the farmers is too far fetched now.

Shubham Pandey February 05, 2021 09:54:32 IST
Farmers' protest: Indian athletes continue to show no desire to become champions of people's rights

File image of Sachin Tendulkar. Reuters

Let's talk about a deleted tweet. The one India pacer Sandeep Sharma had to take off the social media website. The tweet was an attempt by him to put logic into some minds. He had basically dared to teach democracy to a few who have been busy ripping it apart and don't like to be schooled on it. But he failed.

He wrote that if the outsiders are not allowed to speak on India's internal matters, then "by this logic no one should care about each other because every situation is someone's internal affair".

The tweet was attached with an Instagram story screenshot where he took potshots at India's Ministry of External Affairs for criticising Rihanna for speaking up on the farmers' protests. The same post was on his Facebook and of course it was an Instagram Story. Then suddenly, these posts were deleted.

By then, seven words from Rihanna on Twitter had written a short profile of Sandeep Sharma, a brilliant swing bowler who plays for Punjab in domestic competitions and Sunrisers Hyderabad in the IPL, revealing a new side to him. That he cared for his people who are fighting for their rights and their land. That he found it important to speak up for them.

Whether the farm laws, or any law for that matter, is beneficial or not, the biggest issue today in India is whether someone can speak up for the agitated as well as for themselves.

The deleted tweet is both relieving and disheartening, for when it was posted, it contained India's values as a democratic nation, and its deletion reflects India's current political climate. That you are not allowed to speak if you disagree with the people in power.

However, one should feel happy for Sandeep as well. Not because he believes in the core values on which this country is built upon but because he has evaded FIRs and is no more a part of a 'bigger plan to hurt India's sovereignty', something which the country's biggest sports icon talked about in his tweet, the one tweet which will never get deleted.

Sachin Tendulkar wrote two days ago on his Twitter: India’s sovereignty cannot be compromised. External forces can be spectators but not participants. Indians know India and should decide for India. Let's remain united as a nation.

There were two hashtags attached with this tweet. These were #IndiaTogether and #IndiaAgainstPropaganda. No, he was not tweeting after a Chinese incursion into our lands, or a religious group trying to spread communal divide in the country. He has never spoken on these matters. He was silent when migrants walked hundreds of miles to their homes, he was silent when people ran from one hospital to the other in search of beds, lost their loved ones to a deadly virus, he was silent each and every time he was expected to speak on the citizens' behalf, to raise their voice against atrocities, misery.

But here he spoke. He was speaking, in response to a tweet from Rihanna and one more from climate activist Greta Thunberg. Like Rihanna, on the same day, Greta had also tweeted in support of these protests. Soon, everyone followed suit, from Anil Kumble to Saina Nehwal to Virat Kohli, Indian athletes spoke about the importance of unity during these times and why involving any outsider to have a say in India's internal matters was a danger to the country. Not realising that, at most, it was a danger to the party in power in India and not the land it is serving. It was also ironic in a way that before this day, they themselves had not tweeted or said a word on the farmers' protest for months, which according to them is supposed to be their own matter.

Also, all their tweets were so identical it appeared they were following a script, playing as a team again albeit in a new sport, where bowing down to the government pressure earned you points. The fact that the tweets appeared to be in a chain, going up one by one following a tweet from an MEA official, makes it even more evident the spirit of this game was intact. The amount of anger that was directed towards the likes of Tendulkar, in their replies, was a hard truth, telling Tendulkar and co that the India he was speaking of in his tweet is actually against any propaganda, whether from outside, or that created within.

Not to forget, there's one unique characteristic in the sporting gods the country of a billion people follow. It is impossible to now get them to speak further on these tweets. The likes of Kohli and Tendulkar do not get interviewed often and whenever they speak to the media outside the press conferences, politics is kept aside. They turn apolitical suddenly. Every now and then, you will see India captain talking about New India in the press though. He may not understand what political undercurrents are, he surely acknowledges the current leadership.

These athletes don't take questions because when asked for views on the arrests of journalists covering the protests, the internet shutdowns, the metal lathis given to Delhi Police to deal with protesting farmers, concertina wires, teargas, barricades, FIRs, they are no more atmanirbhar to answer these questions, without their publicist.

To expect the sporting fraternity to stand up for the right to free speech of the farmers is too far fetched now. Today, they have turned into political pawns, not just silenced anymore on huge matters concerning people, but backing the State to derail a people's movement. The Twitter episode is a prime example of the same.

Leave the people's movement aside. These Indian legends could not even stand up for their own. When Bishan Singh Bedi wrote a letter to Delhi & District Cricket Association (DDCA) demanding his name to be removed from one of the stands named after him at Feroz Shah Kotla ground, no big name from the community tweeted or said a word to address why and how India's former captain was hurt. Their radio silence on this very personal and 'internal matter' is justified when you will google the name of the current BCCI secretary.

Athletes around the world are showing solidarity with the oppressed, taking on their government, in USA's case even overthrowing one. Naomi Osaka wore face masks with names of victims of police brutality during US Open. Colin Kaepernick battled alone, taking a knee during national anthem in 2016, was criticised, mocked but went on in his fight against racism. The NBA painted Black Lives Matter on the courts. West Indian cricket team continues to take knee before start of any game since the death of George Floyd.

Farmers protest Indian athletes continue to show no desire to become champions of peoples rights

Naomi Osaka wears a mask in honour of Breonna Taylor in her first round. AP

But here in India, the sports icons are showing no desire to become champions of people's rights, rather they are the present government's mouthpiece. There is hope in Irfan Pathans, Bajrang Punias and Sandeep Sharmas but for the rest of them, unfortunately, the bigger concern is that Rihanna is a threat to India's sovereignty.

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