There will be a cricket match between India and Pakistan after a long time. It is exciting. It is thrilling. Some say it is nothing but a game after all. But for most Kashmiris living in the age of WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter, it's not just a game. Even a single WhatsApp status or social media post can get one in trouble.
Life is full of concerns. But if you are in Kashmir, you have some additional concerns. And the India-Pakistan cricket match is the biggest concern of them all. While for the rest of the country, it is just a match, in Kashmir, even cricket can turn your life upside down.
Whenever there is an India-Pakistan match, Kashmiri parents whose children are studying outside J&K issue long advisories to their kids, imploring them kids to not watch the India-Pakistan cricket match. If at all they happen to watch an Indo-Pak cricket match, they should control their emotions and body language. They shouldn’t shout, clap or display any sentiment, reaction or response. They should also be off of social media. In case they watch the match on TV, they must not watch it together with other Kashmiri students. They must not watch it with any other student. They must watch it alone if at all circumstances compel them to watch it. If that is not possible, they shouldn’t watch it at all. The advisory never ends. Even after the match, they should not comment on it. They should pretend that they hate cricket and love tennis or golf instead.
In Kashmir, student leaders issue statements, asking fellow students, studying outside the Valley, that they should behave and shouldn’t shout during or after the match. The anxiety over the India-Pakistan match in Kashmir is only too real. It was always like that.
Like parents whose children study outside, local administration is often worried that the match should not lead to trouble in the Valley.
They have reason to be. In October 13, 1983, when the first international match was played at Sher-i-Kashmir Stadium, Srinagar between the 1983 World Cup champion India and West Indies, the Indian team faced an unexpected crowd at the stadium, named after Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. The West Indies cricketers received an unexpected welcome in the Valley. At every ball, West Indies bowlers were cheered, and at every shot, their batsmen were applauded. At the fall of the Indian first wicket, some Kashmiri boys jumped over the barricades and rushed towards Marshall. They hugged him, leaving him surprised.
Sunil Gavaskar later wrote in Runs ’n’ Ruins: “Being hooted at after a defeat is understandable, but this was incredible.”
In the same stadium in September 1986 a match between Australia and India created similar controversy but the scale of hooting was less. Australia beat India by 3 wickets. This time in spite of heavy police arrangements, the crowd cheered for the Australians. During the initial stage of the match, some youths dug the pitch. They were arrested. Three years later with the onset of militancy, the three accused involved in the digging of the pitch became faces of Kashmir’s separatist movement.
In 2016, the NIT cricket match between India and the West Indies of T20 became the centre of another crisis. First, local Kashmiri students celebrated the West Indies' win in the semifinal. They shouted pro-West Indies slogans. This infuriated non-local students and they hoisted the Tricolour inside the campus. Then they tried to take out a procession outside the campus.
If anything that has remained unregulated in Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370 on August 5, 2019, it is celebrations after or during the India-Pakistan cricket match. Will tomorrow will be different?