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Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Virat Kohli’s defence of Mohammed Shami breaks a silence

For a while now, the defence of tolerance and secularism — the inheritance from the freedom struggle, the default settings of a diverse nation — is framed as a political shibboleth, anti-this or pro-that.

By: Editorial |
Updated: November 1, 2021 10:00:46 am
Kohli’s words draw a line and say: Enough.

Nobody said it better than Virat Kohli. The captain Saturday stood up for his teammate Mohammed Shami after the latter was attacked on social media after the loss to Pakistan in the T20 World Cup match. His words need reiteration, so here they are: “To me, attacking someone over their religion is the most pathetic thing that 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 that and his passion for his country, honestly, I don’t even want to waste one minute of my life to give any attention to 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 have attacked him can come with more force if they want to. Our brotherhood, our friendship within the team, nothing can be shaken.”

The clarity of Kohli’s statement, its refusal to duck behind pieties and euphemisms, has enormous significance. While former cricketers had sought to defend Shami by excusing a rare “off day”, they chose to elide the communal nature of the abuse Shami faced. Kohli looks this brand of divisiveness in the eye, and calls it out for what it is. His assertion of solidarity and brotherhood is not just relevant to cricket. It ripples out to the larger world of politics and culture, where every day the right to take offence is being weaponised to polarise, where micro-contestations over language, advertisements, art and cinema, are used to prise open the bonds that have held communities together and to hand over the freedoms of Indians to moral police and digital mobs. In this environment, Kohli’s words draw a line and say: Enough.

They also break a long silence. For a while now, the defence of tolerance and secularism — the inheritance from the freedom struggle, the default settings of a diverse nation — is framed as a political shibboleth, anti-this or pro-that. Too many celebrities and public figures, who both think and know better, from all walks of life, do a cost-benefit analysis and decide to shut up rather than speak up and call out hate and bigotry. But that one of India’s biggest celebrities, whose talent, achievement and voice reach out to vast numbers of India’s young, chooses to do so marks an important moment. Like Olympian Neeraj Chopra before him, Kohli calls the bluff of those ever ready to sound the dog-whistle and twist sport into the service of polarisation. It is for the rest to listen and learn from Captain Kohli.

This editorial first appeared in the print edition on November 1, 2021 under the title ‘The Captain’s knock’.

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