Kohli has slammed 'spineless people' for abusing Mohammed Shami, called it pathetic Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Virat Kohli is a hard man. You have to be when you are the captain of the Indian cricket team. Kohli — his aggression is in your face. You always know where you stand with the captain.

So as Kohli stood up by his teammate, Mohammed Shami, after he was attacked on social media following the loss to Pakistan in the T20 Cricket World Cup, the skipper was his characteristic self.

Kohli was unequivocal. Let me repeat his words because they should be something every right thinking Indian should believe and support.

Kohli said, “to me attacking someone over their religion is the most pathetic thing a human being can do. Everyone has the right to voice their opinion over what they feel about a certain situation, but I personally have never ever even thought of discriminating (against) anyone over their religion. That’s a very sacred and personal thing to every human being. People take out their frustrations because they obviously have no understanding of what we do as individuals. They have no understanding of how much effort we put on the field. They have no understanding of the fact that someone like Shami has won India a number of matches in the last few years and he has been our primary bowler with Jasprit Bumrah when it comes to making an impact in games. If people can overlook this and his passion for his country, honestly I don’t even want to waste one minute of my life to give attention to any of those people, and neither does Shami and neither does anyone else in the team. We stand by him fully. We are backing him 200 per cent, and all those who are attacking him can come with more force if they want to. Our brotherhood, our friendship within the team cannot be shaken.”

India's Mohammad Shami (left) celebrates with Virat Kohli
India's Mohammad Shami (left) celebrates with Virat Kohli the wicket of West Indies' Shimron Hetmyer during their World Cup group stage match in England (File) Image Credit: AFP

The clarity in Kohli’s public declaration of support to his beleaguered teammate, Shami, rang and echoed in India, where a billion people have a personal stake and passion for cricket and treat cricketers like superheroes.

Cricket and Bollywood are the two Indian passions and both are under attack from the easily offended bigots who can’t stand the rainbow multiplicity of what makes up the khichri (porridge) that is India.

Captain Kohli has a special status — the quintessential west Delhi boy who made good and how. A fairy tale, which only Indian cricket and the universal affection Indians have for it, makes possible.

Most of India celebrated the Kohli-Sharma love story (Anushka Sharma is a bona fide Bollywood A lister) complete with a gorgeous foreign destination wedding with the bride in a Sabyasachi lehenga as Captain Kohli and Anushka became the template for Indian success. Cosmopolitan and unapologetic about grabbing the good life by the throat.

Virat Kohli and Bollywood actress Anushka Sharma performing their wedding ceremony in Buoncovento near Siena on December 11, 2017 Image Credit: Yash Raj Films

So why are digital mobs — empowered by anonymity — giving rape threats to Captain Kohli’s ten month old daughter? How did Kohli offend them by supporting his team India bowler? Something has gone rancid in our make up when we look and loathe other Indians for their religion.

Calling out bigotry

And, like Kohli I want to be unequivocal in calling this out. The republic of hurt sentiments where everyday corporate India is blackmailed and attacked for exceptional advertisements. We are transforming in to a place where digital mobs can be whistled up at a moment’s notice to attack with unprecedented venom.

Rape threats to a toddler, I am sorry, but this is a sick perverted psyche. And, when the digital mobs don’t even hesitate before making odious criminal threats, you’ve gotta wonder at what transformation India is undergoing.

In this file photo taken on November 20, 2017 India's Mohammed Shami bowls during the final day of the first Test between India and Sri Lanka at the Eden Gardens cricket stadium in Kolkata. Image Credit: AFP

Did I say Captain of India? Yes Captain Virat Kohli. If Kohli can be attacked in this perverse way, imagine what a Mohammed Shami feels? All sport is open and any team can have an off day. But, should people who have no understanding of sport make criminal threats on a public medium to Team India?

Our cricketers owe us nothing but their passion and have nearly always delivered performance. Yet Kohli with his usual directness exposed what we elide over when Shami gets attacked for being a Muslim.

Our Olympic gold medallist Neeraj Chopra had also after his win asked the bigots not to involve him in their dirty bigoted games. I asked Abhinav Bindra, Chopra’s gold medal predecessor who won India’s first individual Olympic gold what he thought of the attack on Kohli.

Cricket and Bollywood are the two Indian passions and both are under attack from the easily offended bigots who can’t stand the rainbow multiplicity of what makes up the khichri (porridge) that is India.

Speaking exclusively to Gulf News, Bindra said, “sport is blind to who you are, what your religion is, where you come from, what your bank balance is, what your caste is? All that matters is how you play the game and uphold the spirits and values of it."

Several champions have spoken about what sports and the sporting spirit is but India is still not listening.

These digital lynchings need to end. Shahrukh Khan, Mohammed Shami, Virat Kohli and designer Sabyasachi (currently under digital attack and forced to pull an ad) have given us so much joy and pride. Do we really need to attack our heroes because our hearts have narrowed so much?

The India story is a mosaic. Don’t let the mob hold it hostage.