Two main issues (whether related is debatable) which have made the Test controversial are:
1. Some Australian players said Harbhajan Singh called Andrew Symonds "a monkey".
2. The umpires -- Steve Bucknor from West Indies and Mark Benson from England -- made horrendous errors, most them by Bucknor, and most of them, going against India, costing India the match.
- Photo above: Harbhajan Singh, right, and Australia's Andrew Symonds walk past each other on day four of the second test in Sydney, Australia on Jan. 5, 2008. Credit: AP Photo/Rob Griffith,Files on Yahoo News
- The match scorecard - here on Cricinfo
- India fume at Aussies and umpires - here on BBC
The debates on Indian TV channels through the controversy have been dominated by personal and derogatory remarks directed against Bucknor on the umpiring issue; and by jingoistic outbursts in support of Harbhajan. ("Indians can never be racist. The accusation has hurt our pride.")
The point largely missed is why should Harbhajan call a person like Symonds, who is of Caribbean origin, a monkey? By terming this 'racist', the Australians have sought to widen the meaning of the word 'racist' to include even a conflict between two non-white persons, or within such groups of people. Generally, racism is understood to be practised by the whites against the non-whites. Australia has tried to convey the point that not just whites, but even non-whites can be racist.
There is a background here. During Australia's recent tour to India, Symonds was subjected to "monkey chants" by an undisciplined crowd. This point has been forgotten in all the debates now. Since Indians behaved in such a manner, neither Harbhajan nor Indian team members have a moral high ground. Instead of proclaiming that an Indian would never say such a thing, our senior players, Harbhajan included, should have apologised if an impression had been created that Symonds was called a monkey. An impression of mistake is as bad as a mistake.
There is no proof of the monkey comment. It's one man's word against another's. In that context, the line India should have taken was: "We never said like that. Even if you heard something remotely resembling that m-word, we are sorry. We don't talk like that, we are friends, let's us get on with the game...." That should have been the approach, pre-empting Australians from going ahead with the complaint.
Let us be honest
Let us not pretend that we have no racism or casteism or we don't discriminate looking at the colour of the skin in India. Look at the number of parents rejecting matrimonial alliances merely because of the caste. Educated people are so conscious about caste, they go to the extent of judging others merely by their surnames. Less said about the villages (where real India lives) the better: people try to find out who cooked the food, who brought the water, etc. It's not just shameful, it's tragic.
Look at the lengths people -- especially women -- go to make themselves fair. Our movies and serials are replete with scenes that project the advantages of being fair. In the movie Shivaji, there is an entire sequence wherein Rajnikant goes about trying to become fair (by applying creams and shielding himself from sunlight) so that he is more appealing to a girl (reference here). And every day, we see how people are preferred just because of the colour of their skin.
The point here is to be realistic. We don't have a great image abroad when it comes to our own caste and religion tolerance record. Eventhough we claim ourselves to be a very peaceful country with a great heritage, there is nothing on the ground currently to prove that. As a country, it's a shameful fact that we are as much guilty of racism, in our own way, as much as the west. Let's accept that first, and then, try to correct that.
I am not for a second believing that Bhajji said the m-word. Our prestige and image would have only gone up manifold if we had reached across and sorted out the matter amicably. It's never too late to mend fences.
- Read or listen to the discussion on BBC's World Have Your Say here.
- Racist and blind to it: Indians face the miror - Read CNN-IBN Face the Nation here
- India, Come Back - Read NDTV editorial here
I am sure it's a coincidence: Steve Bucknor, who gave so many wrong decisions against India, is also from the Caribbean. I think he and Benson should have referred to the third umpire whenever there was a doubt. But, tragically, even third umpire failed. Even the best technology is good enough only if there are good enough humans to make use of it.