Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Harbhajan issue & Indian pride (or shame?)

The Sydney Test between India and Australia will be remembered for all the non-cricketing reasons -- not one but many. How quickly over five days it degenerated and plummeted to shameful levels.

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
Do Indians dislike Blacks?

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
Umpiring row

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.


  1. Hey Praddep, what a great post! You address some key issues there! This craving for fairness is a world wide problem, but it is more present in former western-ruled colonies. It is, I think, a weakness to try to look like the master. People should be busy celebrating their differences.

  2. I congratulate you for writing a balanced comment and not working
    yourself in to a frenzy, like myriad Indians in Indian diaspora have been
    indulging through posts and comments in almost all newspapers in the Western
    world. When I was working in the USA, my working days were so full of
    office work that I had just enough time to come home, eat and sleep. Just when and how these characters get time I simply do not know. I read
    explanations, excuses , defensive and prevarication stances from them when some one
    queries about casteism in India, Like you, I believe that casteism is a facet
    of racism. Like skin colour one is born into a caste which is invariant as far
    as Indians are concerned. We see and hear the disgraceful factor of caste
    creeping into the selection process of all governmental appointments. Mysore and
    Bangalore universities select their vice chancellors on a rota of two castes. I need
    not say what these are. In the Engineering college in Mysore where I studied
    and worked ( it is near railway workshop), a particular department for a long time
    recruited lecturers only from one Brahmin subcaste!

    As if casteism is not enough, individuals are often at the mercy of taunts related
    to their complexion- light or dark. For example, I like my father is darker in
    complexion, but my sister like my mother is lighter , and you can guess
    how many of friends and relatives taunted me when I was even in my teens. I ignored all of them much
    to their annoyance. If one cares to read the matrimonial advertisements particularly
    from young men one can discern this shameful attitude. Yesterday, a journalist
    in the newspaper Guardian wrote about the darker-lighter issue that permeates Indian
    society, and within a a few hours, tens of Indian dispora members posted comments
    refuting his observations, and giving sanitised explanation of why he misunderstood the issue!

    As some one with an Indian heritage, I strongly urge Indians to examine themselves
    And the way their society behaves on issues of caste and colour. For a country
    which aspires to belong to the developed world these are serious issues which
    need addressing.

    Now about cricket and the controversies. Australian cricketers are perennial sledgers. During the last 30 years they have developed as an art. The ICC needs
    to draw up tighter rules similar to those in football (soccer), where sledging (Australian forte) and intentional body part touching ( what Harbhajan
    did to Lee) is a red card offence, and the player is removed. Perhaps, cricket
    should consider this approach.

    For blacks of African and Jamaican extraction, the word ‘monkey’ is particularly
    Offensive, as offensive as some calling an African-American a n----r. For Indians, the name calling ‘monkey’ may refer to benign under developed skills or behaviour of humans. For Africans and Jamaican, it is an insulting lineage term, placing them in a certain Darwenian cycle of human development and the way their colonial masters treated them as the mammals fit to live on trees.

    As a class mate of one of the ‘spinning trios’ of yore in engineering college, I have been watching Indian cricket team performance since early 1960s. There have been talented cricketers in Indian teams since that period and the record of winning tests outside the shores of India has not been good, Indian teams simply do not function as the sum of individual skills. Sure there have been umpiring blunders and that is part of the sport. The errors almost always affected the weaker side, like India. It happened to England cricket team and England football team. For example, the red cards shown to Beckam in 1996 prevented England from progressing to semi finals of Europe Cup and in 2006 the red card to Rooney deprived England of reaching the world cup semifinals. In both cases, the neutral umpires acted precipitously. Considering football as a religion in Europe, English fans flared an many were thrown to jail for disturbing peace.

    I have been hearing the rumours that urban educated captains like Dravid and Kumble had had hard time controlling players from rural stock like Harbhajan. Cricket is the
    Only spectator sport in India. In countries like England, West Indies and even to some extent Australia , its impact as a spectator sport is declining fast. In England, soccer ( football ) reigns supreme. West India young men are most interested in
    Basketball, thanks to influence of America and tall West Indians who could have
    been fast bowlers like Wes Hall, Malcolm Marshall and Joel Garner have been attracted to basket ball. Australian ‘rules football’ and rugby has more talented players than cricket. In New Zealand, it is famed ‘New Zealand Black’ rugby team that attracts the pick of young men. These players earn roughly 20 times their counterpart in cricket. Some 20 years down the road, England, West Indies and even Australia may not field cricketers worthy of playing test matches.

    Now that BCCI is awash with money, given the status of cricket as a spectator sport it is time for the BCCI to pull out of ICC and form an Asian CC with neighbouring countries.

  3. A tail piece:
    Some 0 years ago, I ws given a VIP pass to watch the test match between India and a visiting team at Bobay thanks to the effort of my class mate who is a prominent ex-test player. The abuses directed at a non-Indian black fielder was sickeing to hear, and this poor fellow had so much debris thrown at him-bananas ( indicating he was a 'monkey, bottles and even a shoe that play stopped for 5 mins for the ground assistants to come and take away the objets. Soon a fresh set of object were strewn around him.. Disgusted, I walked out of the stadium.

  4. Guru:

    It should be 10 years ago...

  5. Dinakar,

    It is not a balanced article. In European schools and sports teams
    the word 'monkey' is a racist term. Strange that Indians and the Indian diaspora attempt to justify this term as non-racist. They cannot define a list of words that suits them. According to your friend, we in Europe are in strange countries.

    When Indian Students listen to my lectures, they move their head sideways, which in the West taken to be as not agreeing to the points made by me. But I know they do agree, but their movement is in the wrong direction instead of up and down! I tell them about this and they seem to think that they are right.

    As I said, cricket is a religion in India and it is not in England, Caribbean, New Zealand and even in Australia. Cricketers are poorly paid compared to other sportsmen in these countries.

    I have watched many sports, and it is often the weaker team which i hurt by bad umpiring or bad refereeing decisions. In football (soccer)Brazilians and Germans may suffer momentarily after a penalty is awarded against them and the opposing team may go one up, but they alays come back and win the game. India was left with 3 players even after Dravid was wrongly given out, with just 2 overs remaining, at least two of them could have held out to a draw.

    The fall out from all this is wht happens to the poor umpires who makes mistakes when Indian teams are involved? Would front line umpire take part in any test match i which Indian team is competing?

  6. as an aside, listen to this from Leyton Hewitt

    Hewitt lost to compatriot Chris Guccione 7-6 (7-4) 7-6 (7-2) and complained umpires had become too reliant on line-calling technology.

    "I feel like the (Indian) cricketers," Hewitt, 26, said. "What's going on with all the refs these days? Useless."

  7. Check the BBC Mihir Bose blog...It will remind you of Ashwathama rendering by Yudhistira!!

  8. I am told Kumble did try to talk to Ponting and team, but they were in no mood for a discussion and were bent on registering the complaint and making it an issue. There are lots of reports of Ponting being criticised for his abrasive behaviour.

  9. Lewitt has become a lackey, no wonder he blames referees!

    I am not surprsed that the Indian diaspora as a man repeats what Kumble and BCCI say. The problem's genesis is with the Indian crowd which no Indian ( perhaps myself excluded, if I want to call myself an Indian yet)accepts. That is a shame. No wonder Pawar has so much power in India in cricketing matters as he knows indeed many politicians know his compatriots sheepishly follow the lines he dishes out.

    Kumble may gain sympathisers in the West as many will see the two sides to a story and suport the underdog. But it cannot go on for ever. Even the diaspora should realise that it is the weak team
    that suffers from bad umpiring and the solution lies in building the team with necessary fire power not word power.

    I cannot understand the purpose of Kumble going on and on except that he wants to hide the failure at the second test. India still had 3 players left and 12 plus some balls I guess and could have drawn the match. Arguments do not win the match. There is Perth beckoning with its newly laid fast pitch.

    After the episode, I wonder who would be forthcoming to umpire test
    matches where Indian team is involved.

  10. Very nicely written. Commendable and balanced PoV!

    I agree about the racist part of it. You don't necessarily have to be "white" to be racist. Anybody can. And a lot of people are. Whether we look at it that way or not. :)