Indian Muslims don’t even have the right to pick their cricket teams

It’s just a game.
It’s just a game.
Image: Reuters/Adnan Abidi
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The Indian police have over the past few days arrested or filed cases against nearly 50 persons, mostly Muslims, for allegedly celebrating Pakistan’s victory over arch rival India in a cricket match. Some of those arrested have even been charged with sedition.

On June 18, the Pakistani cricket team defeated India by 180 runs to win the International Cricket Council’s coveted Champions Trophy, in a match played in England. This was almost immediately followed by police complaints and outcries on social media that some people in India were seen celebrating the Pakistani victory. Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp, were abuzz with suggestions that Muslims were bursting firecrackers after the match. Often, fake and doctored videos were circulated to make these insinuations.

In Madhya Pradesh, the police arrested 15 Muslim men on June 19 and charged them with sedition—punishable by life imprisonment in the country—following complaints that they had shouted pro-Pakistan slogans and set off firecrackers to celebrate Pakistan’s victory. “But the families say they weren’t celebrating at all,” the Hindustan Times reported.

On the same day, six persons were arrested in the southern state of Karnataka. Some of them were charged with hurting religious sentiments by celebrating the match result. In neighbouring Kerala, 23 were booked for supporting Pakistan, rioting, and unlawful assembly, following a complaint from a leader of prime minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Five were arrested in Bikaner, Rajasthan, and charged with sedition for similar acts.

This isn’t the first time that cricket fans have got into trouble for supporting rival teams. Around 60 students from India were charged with sedition after they allegedly celebrated Pakistan’s victory over India in a 2014 match. Similarly, a Pakistani man was arrested in Pakistan’s Punjab province for waving an Indian flag after Indian batsman Virat Kohli scored a match-winning century last year.

India and Pakistan have been cricket rivals for almost as along they have been existence, and their long-standing hostilities have often reflected in the games.

“These arrests are patently absurd, and the 19 men should be released immediately,” Amnesty International’s India programme director, Asmita Basu told The Guardian, referring to the arrests in MP’s Burhanpur and Karnataka’s Kodagu. “Even if the arrested men had supported Pakistan, as the police claim, that is not a crime. Supporting a sporting team is a matter of individual choice, and arresting someone for cheering a rival team clearly violates their right to freedom of expression.”