Shiv Sena vs An Actor

February 15, 2010
Priyank Chandra

Shah Rukh Khan, a Bollywood actor spoke his mind, and a political party went berserk. A movie, My Name is Khan (MNIK) got a lot of attention and the media decided that unity in India had reached the brink of a complete breakdown at the hands of some goons.

While I certainly do not condone the actions of the Shiv Sainiks, I do believe that this controversy has more sides to it than the media has attempted to stuff down our throats.

When two countries are in conflict but not yet at war, the first step that most countries take is to impose a trade embargo. It is a natural step to take because the countries need to make a stand and hurt the other country in the only peaceful way possible.

In this context, not allowing Pakistani cricketers into our country to play a sports tournament is simply an embargo on the export of human labor. A trade embargo which is meant to prove a point. And this is really what Shiv Sena is demanding albeit in a rather disruptive manner. And it does make sense in a twisted sort of way.

Of course we had not 'not allowed' them. They were just not picked by teams who strategized keeping in mind a lot of factors other than brutal nationalism. A lot of business reasons culminated in an auction where the Pakistanis were not picked. It was basic economics at work, without the need for hyperbole or fervent hatred for a country that is our neighbour and the home of these talented cricketers.

The Pakistanis felt insulted, like the cool kids in school who weren't invited to the most happening party in town. Some people attempted to assuage the hurt because they felt bad that the cool kids felt bad. Now the cool kids came from a family that had a few murderers as distant relatives. So the defenders of morality and identity decided that the nice kid had to be punished, because you should not be nice to people who belong to a family that has criminals in it. And amidst all these analogies, let me remind you that all of this was about the game of cricket.

Sports holds a place in our hearts unlike any other source of entertainment. We place it on a pedestal where we search in it all the attributes we wish to exist in our society. We sometimes treat it as war, the players as gladiators who shall fight until there is conquest and defeat and sometimes as means to a greater end, an agent of hope and change, often over-exaggerated. We have complicated a meaningless form of entertainment by imbuing it with the idealistic notions of war and peace.

But in this controversy we have one other important point. Who are these Pakistani cricketers representing in this lucrative tournament? Certainly not Pakistan, but colorful clubs who are but abstract, and rather fuzzy identities that anyone could identify with. If the Pakistanis were not here as a representation of their glorious nation Pakistan, then who could deny them the moral right to play as long as the laws were not broken. It is like banning bearded men from boarding aircrafts because Osama Bin Laden has a long beard. Or almost like some Indians not allowing Australians into the country because some random Australian attacked an Indian. Oh wait! All of this is already happening.

Let me try to bring about the absurdity of generalization with another example. It is like believing that all Maharashtrians are liberal, intelligent philosophers who bring about social change because B. R. Ambedkar was a Marathi. And this has certainly been disproved by the MNS and Shiv Sena.

And my point is made. Shiv Sena had one good idea - trade embargo but they applied it in the wrong context using the wrong methods. The Bollywood star won this round by default, just muttering meaningless statements about how being nice does not make him unpatriotic, while the political parties screamed itself sore in an act of patriotism.

Indian society is a metaphor for the complexities that surround the concept of identity, and the future holds a lot more battles of this sort for us.

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