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Indian cricket team captain Virat Kohli slammed “spineless trolls” in a scathing comment this weekend for the bigoted attack on his teammate Mohammed Shami after India lost to Pakistan in a cricket match.
Kohli broke his silence nearly a week after he was asked about the abuse, even as most of his teammates did not react initially to the attack on Shami.
“Attacking someone over their religion is the most, I would say, pathetic thing that a human being can do,” the skipper said. “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 on social media take out their frustrations because they have no idea what the players, as individuals, do,” Kohli said, adding that “if people can overlook Shami’s passion for his country, he doesn’t 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.”
He added: “There is a good reason why we are playing on the field and not some bunch of spineless people on social media that have no courage to actually speak to any individual in person. They hide by their entities and go after people through social media, making fun of people. And that has become a social pandemic in today’s world, which is so unfortunate and so sad to see because this is literally the lowest level of human potential that one can operate at.”
"I don't want to waste 1 minute of my life to give any attention to those people. We stand by him fully. We are backing him 200%. Our brotherhood and our friendship in the team, nothing can be shaken and I can guarantee you that as a captain of the Indian team."
Virat Kohli❤️ pic.twitter.com/kYOPQKSxp6
— Jayesh (@jayeshvk16) October 30, 2021
Kohli’s comments were widely lauded for pointing out that the harassment Shami faced was communal.
“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,” an editorial in The Indian Express said on Monday. “Kohli looks this brand of divisiveness in the eye, and calls it out for what it is... Kohli calls the bluff of those ever ready to sound the dog-whistle and twist sport into the service of polarisation.”
Several others also said that they respected his decision to stand up for his teammate.
Good on Kohli. I know basic decency and sportsmanship feels like the bare minimum, but taking even the mildest stance as a public figure is scary in this country, so it’s just good to see someone do that so earnestly.
— harnidh (@chiaseedpuddin) October 30, 2021
Shami, a Muslim cricketer, faced a vicious and bigoted attack on social media and was falsely accused of throwing the match after Pakistan defeated India at their opening game of the T20 World Cup in Dubai on 24 October.
Several Indian handles on Twitter tagged the player in tweets asking him and his family to “go to Pakistan” — a common refrain used by Hindu extremists against Indian Muslims, accusing them of disloyalty towards their homeland. Amid a rise in Hindu nationalism, Muslims — a minority group in India — are routinely accused of supporting Pakistan and targeted for their religion.
Initially, no one from the Indian cricket team spoke up for Shami but support started pouring in after cricketers were criticised for their silence on social media, with some pointing to the team taking a knee for the Black Lives Matter movement before the game. Many asked why the players made the anti-racism gesture while remaining silent on injustices at home.
However, Kohli’s statement supporting his colleague did not go down well with a few hardline Twitter users, some of whom accused the cricketer of demeaning Hindus. Many highlighted a rape threat issued by an anonymous user to his ten-month-old daughter.
Virat Kohli stands up for Muslim fast bowler Mohammed Shami.
Hindutva thugs send Kohl’s 10-month-old daughter rape threats.
This is Modi’s India!
— CJ Werleman (@cjwerleman) November 1, 2021
It’s disgusting to think that absolutely nothing will happen to these IT cell armies, trolls and faceless avatars for hate. There have barely been consequences in the past, no reason to think that anything will be done now.
— Andre Borges (@borges) October 31, 2021
The vitriol didn’t end there. Several Twitter users said they hoped the Indian team would lose its next cricket match as a form of retribution.
This comes even as the Indian government recently arrested some Muslim citizens, accusing them of celebrating India’s loss in the previous match.
When’s the BCCI monthly rental team & their captain Lavdesh Kohli (formerly known as Virat Kohli) next match? Need to send money to various Shiva, Vishnu & Durga temples for homams & yagnyas for their sound defeat the next time round.
— Abhijit Iyer-Mitra (@Iyervval) October 31, 2021
India witnessed multiple instances of blatant Islamophobia following its defeat to the Pakistani cricket team.
Several students from the federal territory of Kashmir were assaulted by other students at an engineering college in Punjab.
A private school teacher in the western state of Rajasthan was fired and eventually arrested for sharing a celebratory WhatsApp status after the match victory. The woman had allegedly posted a picture of Pakistani players with the caption in Hindi: “We won.”
Adityanath, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh and a leader of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, asserted that those celebrating Pakistan’s victory will face sedition charges. Since then, the state police have booked seven persons for allegedly raising pro-Pakistan slogans.
The Kashmir police last week registered cases under a draconian anti-terrorism law against students of a medical college for allegedly celebrating the Pakistan team’s victory.