Indian Muslim player Mohammed Shami was the target of a bigoted attack on social media and several students from Kashmir were assaulted after India lost to Pakistan on Sunday in a cricket match, raising concerns about growing Islamophobia in the country.
Even as Pakistan erupted in celebration after it beat India by 10 wickets in their opening game of the T20 World Cup in Dubai, several Indian handles on Twitter turned against Shami, falsely accusing him of throwing the match.
They also tagged the player in tweets asking him and his family to “go to Pakistan” — a common refrain used by Hindu extremists against Indian Muslims, accusing them of disloyalty towards their homeland. Amid a rise in Hindu nationalism, Muslims — a minority group in India — are routinely accused of supporting Pakistan and targeted for their religion.
The political tension between the neighbouring countries, which have fought three wars since their Independence from the British Empire in 1947, is also seen in the game of cricket.
Several people called out the blatant display of Islamophobia and urged team India captain Virat Kohli and other cricketers to support Shami.
“The Islamophobic hate against Shami with aspersions on his patriotism and his commitment to the country. If this and the state enabled hatred against Indian minorities is not worth taking a knee, I don’t know what is,” journalist Rana Ayyub wrote on Twitter.
Several hours after the game, none of the team India members had spoken up for their colleague.
This silence was met with heavy criticism, especially given that the team had “taken a knee” for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement before the game. Many asked why the players made the anti-racism gesture while remaining silent on injustices at home.
Omar Abdullah, former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, said: “Team India your BLM knee taking counts for nothing if you can’t stand up for your teammate who is being horribly abused and trolled on social media.”
Former Indian cricketer Virender Sehwag seemed to capitalise on the anti-Muslim sentiment by alleging that parts of India celebrated Pakistan’s victory with firecrackers, while making a case for allowing celebratory fireworks during the Hindu festival of Diwali.
But soon after, on receiving backlash, he extended his support to Shami in another tweet.
Gautam Gambhir, another former cricketer and now a lawmaker with India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), wrote: “Those bursting crackers on Pak winning can’t be Indian! We stand by our boy!”
While alleged right-wing trolls unleashed their hatred on social media, several students from Kashmir were assaulted by other Indian students at an engineering college in Punjab. Police officials arrived at the campus of Bhai Gurdas Institute of Engineering and Technology after videos of the incident started making rounds on social media.
“We were watching the match here. The ones from Uttar Pradesh [north Indian state] barged in. We came here to study. We are also Indian. You can see what was done to us. Are we not Indians? So what does [prime minister Narendra] Modi say?” one of the Kashmiri students asked, while showing the damage around a room.
“They entered our room, switched off the lights and beat us. They destroyed our laptops,” a student told AFP requesting anonymity.
Kashmir is at the heart of a decades-old dispute between India and Pakistan, where both countries claim the region as theirs, but control only parts of it.
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