India/Pakistan- In a stunning upset at the ICC Cricket World Cup 2023, the Afghanistan cricket team dealt a significant blow to their neighbouring rivals, Pakistan. Displaying remarkable poise and character, Afghanistan successfully chased down a formidable target of 283, leaving the cricketing world in awe. This unanticipated defeat, particularly at the hands of a lower-seeded team, left many Pakistanis grappling with the harsh reality of their national team's performance against a side that is relatively new to international cricket and lacks the extensive domestic cricketing infrastructure that Pakistan has honed over three decades.
However, what should have been a moment for reflection and sportsmanship took a regrettable turn when the legendary Wasim Akram, resorted to using a derogatory casteist slur during a post-match analysis.
The incident occurred on the sports show 'The Pavilion' on A Sports, where Akram, a respected figure in the cricketing world, used the term 'Ch**ar' in an ill-fated attempt to express his frustration regarding hygiene standards during a similar show at the stadium.
His comments quickly went viral, drawing widespread criticism from viewers and cricket enthusiasts alike.
Wasim Akram's use of this offensive term occurred while discussing his prior experience working with another TV channel, where he was tasked with conducting pre-match shows at the stadium. Currently associated with the Pakistani channel broadcasting the tournament, Akram co-hosts 'The Pavilion' along with cricket luminaries such as Misbah-Ul-Haq, Moin Khan, and Shoaib Malik.
Following Pakistan's loss to Afghanistan, Wasim Akram participated in the discussion about the match. During this show, Akram shared his perspective on the challenges of reporting live from the cricket ground, particularly in the scorching heat. He expressed his concern about the physical toll it takes on presenters, mentioning that sweat stains can become visible on their shirts, which is not aesthetically pleasing. In the course of making this point, he used the derogatory term.
The incident has ignited a flurry of questions and discussions on social media platforms, with many users expressing their concerns and seeking clarification regarding Akram's choice of words during the televised discussion.
Notably, Wasim Akram's use of the derogatory cterm, shockingly went unopposed by fellow panelists and the host, that also sheds light on a deeply ingrained issue within the Pakistani psyche. This incident also highlights the persistence of discrimination against lower-caste non-Muslims, a troubling aspect of Pakistani society that has developed over the years.
The absence of any immediate objection to Akram's derogatory language reflects a concerning tolerance for prejudice within the average Pakistani's mindset. This atmosphere of tolerance has been perpetuated by a history of discrimination against non-Muslims, a group that is unfortunately dwindling due to the pervasive wave of Islamization and religious persecution in Pakistan.
Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, the eminent architect of India's constitution, possessed remarkable foresight when he addressed the issue of religious and caste-based discrimination faced by non-Muslims in Pakistan in his seminal work, 'Pakistan Or The Partition Of India,' first published in 1940 and subsequently in 1945 and 1946. Within the pages of this book, which comprises a collection of his speeches and writings, Ambedkar candidly and astutely articulated his thoughts on the nature of Islam.
In a frank and eloquent manner, Ambedkar pointed out that Islam, as a religion, had a divisive aspect, one that rigidly classified individuals into Muslims and non-Muslims. Within this framework, the benefits of brotherhood and fraternity were extended exclusively to the former, the Muslims, while the latter were often met with disdain and hostility.
Ambedkar's perspective on this matter, as expressed in 'Pakistan or Partition of India,' underscores that while some may argue that Hinduism divides people, and in contrast, Islam unites them, this is only a partial truth. In reality, Islam simultaneously unites and divides. Islam, according to Ambedkar, is an exclusive community, and the distinction it makes between Muslims and non-Muslims is palpable, significant, and isolating. The brotherhood espoused by Islam is not a universal brotherhood of all humanity; instead, it is a brotherhood exclusive to Muslims. The benefits of this brotherhood are confined within the boundaries of this community, and for those who reside outside, there is often only a sense of contempt and enmity.
This view on discrimination based on religion and caste not only played a pivotal role in the creation of Pakistan in 1947 but also served as a foundation for subsequent generations of Pakistanis, normalizing and rationalizing prejudices against non-Muslims, including Dalit Hindus. Instances like Akram's nonchalant use of casteist language is a example of the deep-seated discrimination entrenched within Pakistani society.
More than seven decades have passed since the partition of India and the creation of Pakistan, and the issue of caste continues to occupy a unique and complex position in Pakistan. It permeates society, transcending religious boundaries, yet it is seldom openly acknowledged. This lack of acknowledgment has hindered the progress of rights and recognition for Dalits in the country. Nevertheless, in today's increasingly interconnected world, pockets of activists and advocates in the region are tirelessly working to challenge this status quo and bring about meaningful change. Their efforts represent a ray of hope for those seeking justice and equality for marginalized communities, transcending religious and societal boundaries.
Sara Singha, A Ph.D researcher at Georgetown University in her study in 2015 'Dalit Christians and Caste Consciousness in Pakistan' delved about the caste discrimination in the country . This study explored caste discrimination in Pakistan against untouchable (Dalit) converts to Christianity. During the nineteenth century in India, many Dalits converted to Christianity to escape caste persecution.
In the 1870s in Punjab, a mass movement to Protestant Christianity flourished among the Dalit Chuhra caste. The Chuhras were the largest menial caste in Punjab and engaged in degrading occupations including sweeping and sanitation work. By the 1930s, almost the entire Chuhra caste converted to Protestant Christianity.
In 1947, during the partition of India, the majority of Chuhra converts in Punjab became part of the Protestant community in Pakistan. After Partition, many uneducated Chuhras were confined to menial jobs in the sanitation industry.
Today, the stigma of Dalit ancestry is a distinct feature of social discrimination against Chuhra Christians in Pakistan. `Caste consciousness' in Pakistan is connected to norms of purity and pollution. While not as pronounced as India, purity and pollution in Pakistan relates to the concept of pak (clean) and na-pak (unclean). Because of degrading occupations as sweepers and sanitation workers, many Chuhra Christians in Pakistan are associated with `pollution.' This leads to multiple forms of social discrimination.
The revelation of the Pakistani military's preference for Christian applicants in sewer sweeper positions, as reported in July 2020, highlights a deeply entrenched issue of discrimination within the country. This discriminatory practice stands in stark contrast to the Christian population's relatively small size, comprising only 1.6 percent of the total population, yet disproportionately occupying a staggering 80 percent of sweeper positions, as indicated by the 1998 census. The article authored by Shaista Abdul Aziz Patel, an assistant professor of Critical Muslim Studies at the University of California, San Diego, and published in The New York Times, sheds light on this alarming trend of discrimination in employment.
Formation and Purpose: The Dalit Sujag Tehreek (DST) is a significant movement and organization representing the scheduled caste Hindu communities in Pakistan. Launched in 2016 during the 125th anniversary of Baba Saheb Ambedkar's birth in Mirpurkhas, it brings together various Scheduled Caste organizations in Pakistan, including the Bheel Intellectual Forum (BIF), Oad Samaji Tanzeem, Pakistan Meghwar Council, Baghri Welfare Association, All Sindh Kolhi Association, Sindh Kolhi Itehad (Nemdas group), Sindh Kolhi Itehad (Ranshal Group), Qaumi Awami Tehreek, and the Scheduled Caste Federation of Pakistan (SCFP).
A Campaign Against Discrimination: DST was established to address the social discrimination faced by scheduled caste Hindus in Pakistan, both by Muslim communities and upper caste Hindus. Despite forming the majority of the Hindu population in Pakistan, scheduled caste Hindus are significantly underrepresented in the political arena. For instance, out of about 2,000 Hindu members in the Pakistan Hindu Council (PHC), only seven belong to the Scheduled Castes.
DST's mission is to advocate for the rights and representation of scheduled caste Hindus in Pakistan, striving to end the discrimination they face on multiple fronts.
The problem of caste-based discrimination is deeply ingrained in society, and its ramifications extend well beyond the boundaries of the cricketing world. Over the years, several prominent celebrities in both the entertainment and sports industries have faced serious consequences for their inappropriate use of casteist slurs, bringing the issue to the forefront and emphasizing the urgent need for awareness and change.
In 2020, Yuvraj Singh conducted several live Instagram sessions with fellow cricketers during the rigorous lockdown period. During one such session with Rohit Sharma, Yuvraj made a derogatory remark against spinner Yuzvendra Chahal, which was widely viewed as a casteist slur disrespectful to the Dalit community. While discussing a video Chahal had made with his family, Yuvraj used the term "bh**gi log ko kaam nahi hai," implying that individuals from the lower caste, like Yuzi and Kuldeep, have no worthwhile occupation. This comment sparked outrage and criticism on social media.
In response to the backlash, Yuvraj Singh issued an apology, clarifying his stance on equality and inclusivity. He emphasized that he has never believed in any form of disparity based on caste, colour, creed, or gender and expressed his commitment to the dignity and respect of every individual.
However, Rajat Kalsan, a Dalit activist from Hisar district in Haryana filed a police complaint against Yuvraj Singh, demanding his arrest and the registration of a case under the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, which seeks to prohibit discrimination. As a result, a first information report (FIR) was registered, invoking various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the SC/ST Act. Yuvraj Singh was arrested and later released on bail.
Salman Khan and Shilpa Shetty: In 2018, Bollywood heavyweights Salman Khan and Shilpa Shetty were embroiled in a legal battle over their alleged casteist remarks. Salman Khan had used the term 'bh**gi' to describe his dancing skills during the promotion of 'Tiger Zinda Hai.' Shilpa Shetty used the same derogatory term while discussing her choice of clothing at home with the media. The Valmiki community filed a police complaint against both actors and protested against Salman Khan's film in Agra. Shilpa Shetty later issued a public apology to address the controversy.
Munmun Dutta: Munmun Dutta, famous for her role as Babita in 'Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah,' faced criticism in 2023 for using the same derogatory term in a video about her makeup routine. She apologized, attributing her use of the term to a misunderstanding and a language barrier.
Yuvika Chaudhary: In May of the same year, Yuvika Chaudhary, a former contestant of Bigg Boss 9 and actress, faced legal consequences for making derogatory comments about her appearance and using the term 'bh**gi' in a viral video. A police case was filed against her by a Dalit rights activist.
In 2021, Bollywood actor Randeep Hooda landed unexpectedly in a contentious controversy that ignited a public outcry, with demands for his arrest and accusations of being both 'casteist' and 'sexist'. The controversy was sparked when a Twitter user shared an old video clip from a 2012 chat show attended by Hooda on May 25th. In the clip, Hooda is seen making a problematic and sexist joke at the expense of politician Mayawati, the former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. The precise date of the video's original recording remains unclear.
Meanwhile, the Secretariat of the Convention for the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), the environmental treaty of the United Nations, issued a statement announcing that Hooda has been removed as its ambassador following his remarks.
Many comedians and social media influencers have been called out for cracking casteist and problematic jokes in the past. Comedian Abish Mathew’s videomaking fun of Mayawati had also gone viral, after which he apologised and said that he made the joke when he was “ignorant, immature and tone deaf”.