Wasim Akram, the legendary Pakistani cricketer and commentator, shocked and angered many people when he used a derogatory term for the leatherworking community, a Dalit group in India and Pakistan, during a live TV show. Akram was discussing the performance of the Pakistan cricket team in the ongoing World Cup when he said, "They are playing like leather working community." They don't have any sense of how to bat."
His comment sparked outrage among the particular community and other Dalit groups in both countries, who demanded an apology and action against him. They also highlighted the issue of caste discrimination and oppression in Pakistan, which is often ignored or denied by the majority Muslim population.
Caste is a system of social stratification based on birth, occupation, and ritual purity. It originated in Hinduism but was also adopted by other religions in South Asia, including Islam. Dalits face discrimination, violence, and exclusion from education, employment, health care, and political representation.
Pakistan was created in 1947 as a homeland for the Muslims of British India, who were a minority and faced religious persecution. However, Pakistan did not abolish caste or recognize the rights of Dalits. Instead, it adopted a feudal system of land ownership and patronage, where the elite landlords controlled the resources and exploited the poor peasants. Many of these peasants were Dalits who had converted to Islam to escape caste oppression in Hinduism but still faced discrimination by their Muslim landlords.
According to a 2010 report by the International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN), there are an estimated 5 million Dalits in Pakistan who belong to various occupational groups such as sweepers, cobblers, leather workers, weavers, potters, barbers etc. They are also known by different names, such as Musalli (prayer mat), Bhangi (scavenger), Chuhra (sweeper), Mehtar (cleaner), etc. The most populous Dalit group in Pakistan is the leatherworking community, traditionally leather workers and tanners.
The IDSN report states that Dalits in Pakistan face multiple forms of discrimination and violence based on their caste identity. They are denied land, water, education, health care, employment, and political representation. They are also subjected to bonded labor, forced conversions, sexual abuse, rape, kidnapping, murder, and blasphemy accusations. They are often segregated from the rest of society and live in slums or ghettos with poor sanitation and infrastructure.
Wasim Akram's comment not only insulted a community and other Dalits in Pakistan and India but also violated their human rights and dignity. His comment amounted to hate speech.
His comment reflects the deep-rooted caste discrimination and prejudice in Pakistan, as well as the lack of legal and political mechanisms to address it. No law in Pakistan penalises citizens for making such remarks, unlike in India, where the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, provides protection and justice to the victims of caste-based violence and discrimination. Therefore, it is unlikely that Akram will face legal action for his comment unless there is a public outcry or pressure from civil society groups.
However, his comment may have political implications for the relations between India and Pakistan, especially in the context of the ongoing ICC Cricket World Cup 2023. Akram's comment may insult the millions of Dalits and other oppressed castes in India, who have been fighting for their dignity and rights for decades.
Akram's comment has also affected his reputation and credibility as a former cricketer and a current commentator and analyst. He has lost the respect and admiration of his fans and peers, who might question his professionalism and ethics. He must apologise publicly for his insincere and loose comment.