In Cricket-Crazy Kashmir, India-Pakistan World Cup Clash Tests Emotions

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In Cricket-Crazy Kashmir, India-Pakistan World Cup Clash Tests Emotions

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In the strife-ridden region of Indian-administered Kashmir, supporting Pakistan over India in cricket is a complex matter, fraught with risks and opportunities. The ICC Cricket World Cup match between India and Pakistan, held in Ahmedabad, Northern India, on a Saturday, draws particular attention and emotions from cricket enthusiasts in this region.

Traditionally, the residents of Kashmir have been staunch supporters of the Pakistani cricket team, and cricket matches between the two nations often lead to heightened emotions and, occasionally, public protests. The locals, primarily in this Muslim-majority region, justify their fervent support for Pakistan as a reflection of Kashmir’s “political reality.” In a place marked by conflict and division, cricket serves as a potent outlet for their sentiments.

The central bone of contention in the strained relationship between India and Pakistan remains Kashmir, the flashpoint of two of the three wars they have fought. Both countries lay claim to the entire region, and each administers a part of the divided territory.

Over the years, cricket has been used by Indian governments as a means to gauge the loyalty of Kashmiri residents, a practice that has intensified under the rule of the right-wing, Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in power since 2014. Celebrations that were once hallmarks of Pakistan’s victories in cricket have now become less conspicuous.

After the abrogation of Article 370 in 2019, which stripped the region of its limited autonomy, dissent in Kashmir has been met with harsh crackdowns. During India-Pakistan matches, social media activity is closely monitored by security and intelligence agencies, causing Kashmiris to fear expressing support for the Pakistani team openly.

Legal actions have been taken against those posting tweets or WhatsApp statuses favoring Pakistan, with some individuals charged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), a stringent anti-terrorism law. Kashmiri students studying outside the region have also faced physical assaults and arrests after Indian cricket losses to Pakistan.

Under the current climate, many Kashmiris are cautious about expressing their feelings during the Cricket World Cup, fearing repercussions ranging from government action to online doxxing and job loss. Despite these challenges, the passion for cricket remains undiminished in Kashmir.

The fervor for the sport is evident as young girls and boys continue to play cricket under the shade of chinar trees at the Sher-I-Kashmir Cricket Stadium in Srinagar. While Kashmir has produced few top cricketers, due to a lack of infrastructure and opportunities, there are aspiring players like Sameer Farooq, who embarks on a daily three-hour round trip to Srinagar for practice despite financial constraints.

The love for cricket is equally strong among the region’s young women, with players like Armeen Riyaz pursuing their dreams of playing in the Indian women’s cricket team.

Furthermore, the Cricket World Cup in India presents an economic opportunity for Kashmir’s renowned cricket bat manufacturers. Faizan Mir, who owns a bat manufacturing unit, anticipates a boost in sales if India secures the World Cup, as the demand for bats increases in Indian markets. He hopes that international matches will return to Kashmir, further promoting the sport in the region.

In a café on the banks of Dal Lake in Srinagar, Indian tourists and local residents watched the India-Pakistan match together. However, the atmosphere was subdued among Pakistan cricket fans, as Pakistan’s underwhelming performance dimmed their spirits. In contrast, Indian team supporters cheered enthusiastically as India secured a decisive victory, reinforcing the passion and fervor that cricket continues to evoke in Kashmir.

As Kashmir navigates the complexities of supporting Pakistan in the face of political tensions, cricket remains a powerful force that transcends borders and binds communities, even in the midst of conflict.

Reference

https://www.aljazeera.com/sports/2023/10/14/kashmir-india-pakistan-icc-cricket-world-cup-2023-clash

https://newstral.com/en/article/en/1244957286/in-cricket-crazy-kashmir-the-india-pakistan-world-cup-clash-tests-emotions

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