The most amusing aspect of the reaction in England to Azeem Rafiqs denouncing racism in English cricket, and wider society, was the surprise of those who must have known all along. That a gifted player (who is only 30 years old) has taken tears on television to spark a response is testament both to its ubiquitous nature and to its casual acceptance by both perpetrators and in many cases the victims.
Rafiq spoke with a clear and controlled passion that gave his words extra weight. The England and Wales Cricket Board has apologized, while the Yorkshire whistleblower hotline received 36 calls in its first week. The problem may be too deeply entrenched in society to keep sport isolated, even as executives try to make amends, if not for honorable reasons, at least to prevent their sponsors from leaving.
When one of the MPs on the committee asked Rafiq if he would consider helping Yorkshire attract new sponsors or bring back those who had withdrawn, he made it clear that he had no intention of selling out for a few cents. touch. The question was as much a part of ancient thinking as the answer was worthy.
Rafiq has not only moved the cricket authorities, he has also activated the media. According to the guardPrivately trained white British players are 34 times more likely to become professional cricketers than state-trained British South Asians. The paper quoted research from Birmingham City University which found that white British players are three times more likely to become pros than their British South Asian counterparts, regardless of education.
Similar statistics are not available for India, and it is conveniently believed that the cricket may be the one area where merit is everything and accidents of birth, ancestry, upbringing and circumstances make no difference. But of the 302 players who have played test cricket for India, only about five percent are Muslims (against 15 percent of the general population) and about eight percent are Dalits (against 25 percent of the general population).
No monument needs to be built on these figures, but it is clear that things are a little skewed. It comes down to a lack of opportunities, education and sports, as well as the pressure to earn a living and contribute to the family income.
A parliamentary committee like the one in England that interviewed Rafiq on live television (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) could also do Indian cricket a lot of good. Gathering information, compiling it and discerning patterns may not require a parliamentary committee, but such a committee must be the one to recommend changes. It would also help if they talked to the stakeholders, perhaps on national television. It is important to remember that caste discrimination in India is just as vicious and pervasive as racism elsewhere.
You cannot rectify racism or the caste system by paying attention to it in a small part of society. But at least it’s a start, especially if the focus is on getting things right at the lower levels. The major players of India, from Vijay Merchant through Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar to Rohit Sharma, were Brahmins who were well educated and had more opportunities than those born lower on the caste scale. The percentage of Brahmins in the country is around five, yet they make up more than fifty percent of those who have played for India.
This is not unknown or even unusual, but it is not commented on. The worst is seen at the lower levels in age group cricket, rather than the highest levels. You have to perform to play for India and perform consistently. This is fair. But in order to perform, a player must be given the opportunity to do so, and this is where there is a problem at the lower levels. We cannot say how many Dalits and Adivasis who could have made a difference have been lost to Indian cricket because they had no chances.
Sunil Gavaskar has written in his book how he was accidentally switched with another baby as a newborn. An uncle noticed that the baby Sunil was not the same one he had visited before. A search was launched and Gavaskar was found in a crib in the hospital next to a fisherwoman.
Would Gavaskar have made a great cricketer if he had grown up as a fisherman? Or would the fisherman’s son have been raised as a Gavaskar playing for India? Especially considering that his uncle Madhav Mantri had done that?
While we applaud Rafiq and the British establishment, one for speaking out and the other for the official investigation, let’s not lose sight of the issue in our own backyard. Who will be India’s Rafiq?
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