It was an extraordinary sight on the cricket field. The Indian team lead by Virat Kohli ‘taking the knee’ ahead of Sunday’s India Pakistan match, in support of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement in the United States. It is a symbolic gesture many sportspersons have adopted in the US and around the world to protest against racism.
American footballer Colin Kaepernick was the first to take the knee back in 2016 during the American national anthem before a match. Making a powerful statement, Kaepernick said at the time that this was his way of protesting against a country that oppressed black people. The cause is therefore more than worthy.
But coming from the Indian cricket team, it has been reduced to a meaningless gesture. India’s star cricketers, past and present, almost never speak on the oppression of communities back home, whether it’s Islamophobia, to farmers protests or the injustice of Dalits.
Shami’s vicious trolling
On the day that the Indian team played Pakistan in Dubai, the same day the team was taking the knee, India’s Mohammad Shami was viciously trolled on social media for the loss. With a major backlash, we finally saw some of cricket’s big names speak up. Sachin Tendulkar came out strongly in support of Shammi.
The Indian cricket board, the BCCI, also came out in Shammi’s support 48 hours later. But at the time of writing this column, there has been no word from captain Virat Kohli, who had lead his team mates in the symbolic protest against racism.
The only thing we have heard from Kohli has been how the team took the knee after “communication from the management”. So much for truly believing in the cause they were protesting for. Kohli has admitted this was a farce of a photo op, simply a publicity stunt.
Much like Bollywood’s big stars, India’s super star cricketers really don’t care about what happens around them. They are happy to live in their bubbles, sign endorsements, and stay away from taking a stand on pretty much anything. Except when they are ‘told to’. It isn’t surprising when Virat Kohli says he and the Indian cricket team took the knee because they were told to.
Paying a price
Bollywood is no different. Many say that those like Shah Rukh Khan who had been vocal on issues like intolerance once, are paying the price for it today. Very few from the film industry have come out vocally in his support as his son faces jail without bail for drugs he didn’t have on him, as per the submission of the narcotics bureau.
But it is now, more than ever, that Bollywood needs to speak up collectively and find a spine. But why blame cricketers and Bollywood alone. In the last couple of weeks, two big Indian corporates have bowed to bullies — Fab India and Dabur, who both withdrew advertisements after pressure from right wing trolls.
India inc, which has now seen attacks on big names like Infosys (which was called anti national by a right wing journal), has also kept quiet.
Very few big corporate names speak up on pressing social issues of the day. Meaningless exercises like taking the knee only expose you.