During my visit to Azad Kashmir recently, one day I saw a truck on the road that was unusually plain and bereft of any truck art. Its exterior was all plain but there were only few words painted at the back boldly and clearly stating ‘Boom Boom Afridi’. It surely exhibited the love for the Pakistani cricket player Shahid Afridi the truck owner must be having. This immediately reminded me of the first scene from the Bollywood film ‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan’ that shows Kashmiris from the Pakistan side cheering for Team Green, and a lady among them who’s willing to name her new born after Shahid Afridi.
Recently, during Pakistan cricket team’s visit to India for the World T20, on the day when Pakistan had to play against New Zealand (22nd March, 2016), I received a mention over social media from a Kashmiri from Indian-held Kashmir saying:
— RD (@RoufDar_) March 22, 2016
This was a wish of a common Kashmiri; to have his love for the Pakistani cricket team recognized by the players. It was quite amazing to see that after a while, when the match was about to begin and Afridi was asked to comment on the great support that was visible in the stadium, he did not falter in recognizing the support outpouring from Kashmir. It was Ramiz Raja who asked:
“It seems you have a bit of fan following here in Mohali…”
To which Afridi responded by saying:
“Yes, a lot of people, a lot of people are here from Kashmir as well. And I want to thank people of Kolkata; they really support us as well.”
This recognition of Kashmir’s support by Afridi made the Kashmiri spectators extremely ecstatic. After all, who wouldn’t want their love to be appreciated before the world, and that too by their favorite sportsperson? It was quite an extra-ordinary thing to happen to the Kashmiri fans.
The posters in the image below also speak volumes in this regard:
Kashmiris hold posters in Mohali saying ‘We are here for Afridi’ & ‘From Kashmir with love”
But uttering the highly sensitive K-word in India by a Pakistani perhaps wasn’t acceptable to the locals and hence the consequences followed. Indian media reported the story with headlines like:
‘Afridi says people from Kashmir have come to support Pakistan at #NZvPak; creates furore’ (Hindustan Times)
‘SHOCKING: Shahid Afridi Talks About Kashmir Before World T20 Match’ (ABP News)
The next day, BCCI came out criticizing Afridi for using the K-word and advised him to abstain from passing any ‘political’ statements. Quite interestingly hilarious it was that merely thanking the people for their support had been linked with politics – only because they belonged to the place which is in dispute between India and Pakistan; which absolutely makes no sense at all.
The presence of young Kashmiris, carrying Pakistani flag & posters, in Mohali stadium is the reason why BCCI hates to host Pakistan. #PAKvNZ
— Zafar Mehdi (@mehdizafar) March 22, 2016
The story did not end there. After a few days, on 25th March 2016, when Pakistan played against Australia at the same Mohali, again a huge number of Kashmiri supporters were present at the stadium cheering for Pakistan cricket team. While watching the match live on television, my own family members wondered Pakistan had obtained an overwhelming amount of support from the audience present in the stadium considering the fact that it was happening in India and not Pakistan. I then told them that the supporters were basically Kashmiris who had travelled all the way from Indian-held Kashmir to Mohali for Pakistani team. Some of the Kashmiris talked about it on twitter in following words:
— Muhammad Saqib (@Saqibnzr) March 25, 2016
Kashmir and Pakistan is the best love story ever – This is frenzyness. #PAKvsAUS
— ۱۹۴۷ (@__qureshi) March 25, 2016
— Daniyal Bashir ❦ (@Daniyalbr) March 25, 2016
In the end of that match, at the post-match ceremony, Afridi, being the captain, thanked the crowd for their support on behalf of the entire team in the following words:
“I want to thank people from Kolkata. I thank people who came and supported us from Pakistan and Kashmir.”
Voila! Once again he mentioned Kashmir at the same platform. Again it made the Kashmiri spectators joyful and at the same time irked the locals. One of the famous Indian journalists tweeted afterwards:
What’s with Afridi & Kashmir. Did he come to play #WT20 or resolve Kashmir? Sportsmen shd stay clear of politics, esp if they are brainless
— Shekhar Gupta (@ShekharGupta) March 25, 2016
Mr. Shekhar Gupta really need to explain how thanking the people of Kashmir was in any way an attempt to resolving the Kashmir issue!
Kashmiris on the other hand reacted to the outpour of insanity by some Indians over social media as follows:
Shekhar since you are a journalist visit Srinagar and ask Kashmiris about Afridi, he has only spoken the truth🔥 https://t.co/6Ak1W3a4Dz
— Daniyal Bashir ❦ (@Daniyalbr) March 25, 2016
Don’t quite understand the heartburn. #Afridi thanked fans from Kolkotta & Kashmir, a perfectly nice sporting thing to do. What’s with hate!
— Mirza Waheed (@MirzaWaheed) March 25, 2016
Feel sorry for Indians that refuse to acknowledge the sentiments associated with Pakistan at least in Cricket among Kashmiris. Don’t hate.
— f (@_Faysal) March 25, 2016
It was such a passionate & emotional moment when Afridi thanked Kashmiris.His statement was followed by shrieking of Kashmiris
— عقاب (@Uqab_) March 25, 2016
In both cases, Afridi’s words were not even remotely political. It’s surprising to see how India reacted to the mere mention of Kashmir. After all, how could just thanking the crowd for their support be in any way political? And let’s not ignore the fact that both the times when Kashmir was mentioned, at the same time the crowd from Kolkata was also thanked; something which has been hypocritically ignored.
Afridi’s words could have been termed as ‘political’ only if he had talked of occupation, freedom movement or any kind of relevant dispute. However, there was none. The reaction of BCCI was quite uncalled for and distractive. But then, it only reflects one thing i.e. how extremely sensitive India is towards Kashmir in general; so much so that it becomes intolerable for them to even hear a Pakistani using the K-word while standing on their soil.
Pertinent to mention here is the fact that this is not the first time Kashmir’s support for Pakistan cricket team came into spotlight. Kashmiris have been cheering for Pakistan for quite a long time. For the same reason, they have had to face beatings, expulsions from educational institutes and also have been booked under sedition charges in India in the past. All these incidents have an underlying message for the sane minds. It is high time India acknowledged that when it comes to cricket, Kashmiris – on both sides – have a thing for the Team Green, and especially for Shahid Afridi. Accepting this fact will not hurt the Indian political narrative on Kashmir in any way.
PS: This post originally appeared in Express Tribune Blogs