Let me start with a personal story. When I went to Pakistan in 2004 for the Friendship tour, I went to a college in Lahore along with Rahul Dravid, L Balaji, and Parthiv Patel. In a question-and-answer segment attended by 1,500 students, one girl got up and asked, almost in anger: why do I play for India despite being a Muslim? I stood up and said I am not doing any favours (ehsaan) by playing for India. It’s my country, and I am lucky, proud and honoured to represent it. It’s my mulk, my country, a place where my ancestors all come from. Everyone in that college clapped.
If I can speak like that in Pakistan, in an open gathering, puffing out my chest, then I don’t need anyone’s permission in my own country to say what I feel. I have represented my country. Some people should realise that. When I ran in to bowl for India, I didn’t think I am a Muslim. I am an Indian first before anything else.
And what did I say? Here is my tweet: “Political blame game will go on forever but I and our country is concerned about the students of #JamiaMilia #JamiaProtest”
Is there anything wrong? Is there any hate speech there?
Whenever there are two sides to an argument, and both strong, I don’t tweet about it. Here, the issue was different. Peaceful protest in a democracy is a fundamental right. I wanted the attention to go there so that there is no loss of life there, the situation doesn’t worsen. These are kids, our future.
Aren’t the Jamia kids ours? Aren’t the IIM kids ours? Aren’t the North-East kids ours? Aren’t the kids from Kashmir and Gujarat ours? All of them are our kids. I saw some videos, images, visuals from media and from Twitter. I kept checking the facts, over and over again. Then I decided that it’s a right way to express my concerns about the students. Whether they are from Jamia or from IIM or any others, they are the future, the ones that will take our country forward.
No one should, of course, indulge in violence. There is nothing wrong in supporting students because they are our future. If they are doing something wrong, then there are peaceful ways to bring them back on track. And if they aren’t doing anything wrong and protesting peacefully, then there is nothing wrong with it. If I present my opinion on society, is it wrong? Haven’t I done anything for my society? I have. I also know that in this era of social media, there would be reactions and I also know that many of them are fake accounts.
I thought that I needed to speak. I started and then, lots of others started to speak out. Sometimes, it needs one to start tweeting, and others follow it. Then the focus goes there. Who will start it is the big question, but I always have loved to bowl with the new ball! Jokes apart, I felt I needed to speak out and so, I did.
That episode in Pakistan did come to my mind yesterday after I tweeted. I have smashed stumps on the field in Pakistan and did the same off the field in that country, and my intent is being questioned in my own country?
When I tweeted against Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, who had uttered words such as ‘bloodbath’ and ‘fight to end’, in a speech in United Nations in October, I was a “laadla”, a darling. Now I am not? Now when I am talking about the wellbeing of our own country’s kids, I am wrong?
I am often asked whether celebrities should speak their mind on issues in the country. I have always believed that it’s up to the individual concerned. And it also depends on the situation.
Let me share another personal example. I was in Kashmir, coaching the Jammu and Kashmir cricket team, when the Pulwama episode happened and our Army was attacked. Our team was shifted to Jammu. The families of our soldiers were in shock and in sorrow, and you could feel it. I was holed up in a hotel and could see out of my window that the people of Jammu, affected by what had happened, were burning bikes and cars in protest. Whose bikes and cars were they? Those of our own people. But I didn’t tweet anything then; I could see that our people were angry, our jawans had been killed. I could have tweeted, ‘don’t protest violently, don’t burn vehicles’ but it would have been silly. It’s not right to protest violently but I could see the underlying emotions there.
It’s important that as long as I speak my mind — as long as it’s not a hate message — people will take it positively. You will never find any hatred in my tweets. Even when I am speaking about Imran Khan, I am talking about peace. I will always advocate peace.
I am also asked in particular about cricketers — should we speak out more? The reality is that there is much at stake for us cricketers. It is for the individuals to decide whether they want to speak out or not.
I also realise that much of the so-called atmosphere, or mahoul, is created in the virtual world. I have seen it before while returning from losses in cricket games. Some elements would trigger stone throwing or whatever, and say people are angry. Sometimes, that mahoul is created by the media itself. I have stopped reacting to such negativity.
Similarly, now, we all know how the vicious atmosphere is created today — how social accounts can be bought with money and fake atmosphere of negativity or positivity over any issue created. We, as citizens of our beautiful country, need to be alert that its peace isn’t destroyed.
When it comes to the political climate in our country, first it used to be about roti, kapda aur makaan (food, clothes and housing). Then, it’s development. Now and then, religion comes in. But remember, most people care about wellbeing and growth.
When I speak to my friends, we never discuss religion. We talk about each other’s work, life, how to grow. No one says, I won’t work with a person who is of a different faith than me. We all want to grow and take care of our families. If you grow, the country will grow.
Don’t spread hate. We should retain positivity in our minds. It’s not like before, a random text message of hate, now it’s everywhere; just open the phone and it will flood in. It’s our responsibility, for our own sanity, to stay calm and spread positivity and love.
I have earned my money with honesty and hard work. If someone says I have tweeted even one word of hate ever, I will leave social media now. As a kid I didn’t even have a cycle. Today, people have given me such love and whole country has given me love, and that love will remain. I am confident that people will try to understand the intent behind my tweet and I am sure they will.
(Irfan Pathan, a member of the 2007 T20 World Cup winning team, spoke to Devendra Pandey)
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