Indian cricket has a racist streak

Parth Pandy
Racism in Indian cricket, much like Indian society, has its roots in colourism

In a startling revelation, former West Indies cricket captain Darren Sammy recently expressed his deep disappointment at having been subjected to racial slurs during his time at thee Indian Premier Leagu franchise SunRisers Hyderabad. In an emotionally articulated Instagram post, Sammy talked about only recently discovering the racial connotation of a label he thought his teammates affectionately called him by.

While Sammy sought a personal clarification from the said teammates rather than revealing their names in a public post, the internet conjecture hints at a current leading Indian fast bowler and a former legendary test batsman as the possible names he could have been referring to.

An old Instagram post by the fast bowler from the corresponding time has come into light where the problematic racial slur has been used to identify Sammy. Another old tweet addressed to the celebrated test batsman has been doing rounds in which Sammy refers to himself with the same slur, unaware of its racial nature, raising speculation that the batsman in question may have used the label rather leniently. Neither player has offered any public clarification so far.

The IPL governing body or even the franchise Sammy was playing for at the time has not drafted even a token response addressing the matter. And all leading Indian cricketers – past and present – have, to very little surprise, maintained complete silence.

Racism in Indian cricket, much like Indian society, has its roots in colourism. The most interesting part of Sammy’s revelation was that along with him, the racist slur was also directed at Sri Lankan all-rounder Thisara Perera. This highlights that the derision among Indians for darker skin complexion is actually race independent. In fact, according to former all-rounder Irfan Pathan, many cricketers from down south have faced this discrimination from both players and fans up north.

Indian cricket though had a golden opportunity it missed at drawing a line in the sand in dealing with racism a little more than a decade ago. On the 2007-08 tour of Australia, off-spinner spinner Harbhajan Singh was accused of having thrown racial expletives at Australian all-rounder Andrew Symonds. When Harbhajan was sentenced with a suspension, the Indian team, rather than expressing remorse, went on the offensive and threatened to walk out of the tour. The sentence was subsequently reduced on appeal and the ban was overturned.

It is interesting to note, the current Indian fast bowler believed to be the one Sammy was referring to in his post, was only 19 at the time of this incident and on his first major tour. He saw the series of events unfold in front of his eyes. Had an example been made out of a popular, senior cricketer like Harbhajan, he may have learned a very different lesson at a young age. Instead, he saw how wielding institutional power worked your way out of trouble while your country’s media played the jingoism card.

To this day, this episode – infamously called Monkeygate – is often recounted in the Indian media and narrated as a tragic tale of Indian victimhood. An entire generation of impressionable youngsters, who mostly constitute the Indian team today, was never adequately told about the magnitude of offence caused by a player they held in high regard. And to no surprise, the same set of players today are finding little cause to outrage over a black cricketer’s tormenting experience in India.

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