Britain Burns: Riots Do and Do Not Hurt Images

By ALLABAKSH

While it will sound distasteful to the ‘broad-minded’, a comparison over the after-effects of a riot in a country like Britain, still assumed to be a supper power and enjoying an exalted status with four other similar powers in the exclusive P-5 and Nuclear clubs, and a ‘third world’ country like India will be of some interest to the many less emancipated denizens in a country vying for greatness with the help of some media hype.

The riots that started in the north London district of Tottenham and spread to not only various parts of the British capital but also to other cities in the island left a trail of death and destruction as riots everywhere often do. Indians know well the extent of damage that a riot can cause not only to families whose members become helpless victims of frenzied mobs but to public and private property. 

While it will sound distasteful to the ‘broad-minded’, a comparison over the after-effects of a riot in a country like Britain, still assumed to be a supper power and enjoying an exalted status with four other similar powers in the exclusive P-5 and Nuclear clubs, and a ‘third world’ country like India will be of some interest to the many less emancipated denizens in a country vying for greatness with the help of some media hype.

The Indian cricketing ‘legend’, Sunil Gavaskar, has been damned in the ‘liberal’ quarters for saying that had the riots taken place in India and the Poms were the visitors they would have flown back home at the first sign of riots. Gavaskar was bang on target. He is unlikely to change his views because of the inanities and profanities hurled at him.

One such critic of his said that the great Indian opening batsman of yesteryears forgot that the English team was playing in India when the Mumbai attacks by Pakistani terrorists happened. The visitors did take the first flight back home but returned within ‘two months’ to resume the interrupted tour. The gesture of the English team can be seen in two different ways.

The English team was justifiably worried about the safety of its players after the terrible attack by terrorists and, therefore, rightly decided to leave the tour mid-way for the safety of home. They subsequently decided to return long after the city of Mumbai had returned to normalcy. It is immaterial whether there were also some other considerations involved in the English team’s first and second decision.

Now view the Indian cricket’s team tour of England in the light of the riots in that country. India was playing a Test match in Birmingham when the city was engulfed in riots. In one particularly shocking incident, a car deliberately ran over three men who looked ‘South Asians’. The incident was gruesome and incredible too as such displays of inhuman instincts, we have been told repeatedly, do not happen in the ‘civilised’ world. 

After that uncivilised behaviour by a hooligan there would have been no doubt in the minds of many South Asians that they, identified easily by the colour of their skin, are the targets of the goons who had taken over the streets of a large part of Britain for five days in August 2011. If the Indian cricket team had seen the incident with British eyes they should have run to the airport instead of ducking for cover from one of the swinging deliveries of British pace men or dodging the bullets in the red cherry form from their batsmen. The venue of the Birmingham Test match was not very far from where the ‘action’ was taking place.

The Indian team pretended as though nothing had happened; not even when they were being clearly butchered by the English team! Probably the team was instructed to stay on as India did not wish to be accused of a knee-jerk reaction. 

Now consider another fact which few in India have cared to recall. The 2010 Commonwealth Games remain enshrined in the memory of Indians for all the scandal surrounding it and the alleged involvement of many important figures in financial bungling with insinuation of embezzlement of public funds.

But go back to those days when a number of top athletes had announced their decision not to come to Delhi for the Games. Most of them were from the ‘white’ Commonwealth, including Britain and Australia, though one top athlete, a world record holder in a sprint event, belonged to the West Indies and lived in the US.

Why did they ‘boycott’ the Delhi sporting event? Partly because of all the stereotyped image of India they have: heat and dust combined with unhygienic conditions and indigestible ‘hot’ food. There was also an important additional reason. They thought India was not safe enough for them as it was prone to terrorist attacks. Did they confuse India with Pakistan where terrorists have turned to their former masters with a vengeance? Maybe.

A more assertive India should have blasted the foreign athletes and their sporting bodies unequivocally for showing disrespect to the spirit of the game, if not the host country. That India accepted meekly their decision to boycott the Delhi games under a false pretext is another matter and a reflection of our ‘softness’.

The scenes of rioting on British streets were watched in South Africa with some smugness and it revived the feeling of unjust cries in Britain against holding the World Cup 2010 football matches in South Africa. The Brits wanted the football’s biggest event shifted to another venue which was ‘safe’. South Africa, it was said, was prone to violence.

That the mega football event was staged with huge success in South Africa without any hitch or violence is history now; but not the fact of malevolent objections about the venue raised by many in Britain.

The point of all this is neither to denigrate any country or its players nor to suggest that sportsmen should be ready to turn into heroic martyrs should they be felled by a terrorist’s bullets while in the line of duty as their country’s representative in a ‘hostile’ environment.

The point is simply this: do not let your prejudices about a country overweigh you and do not apply double standards to the ‘safety’ factor in staging of sporting events. A riot does sully the image of a country and on occasion may require sporting events to be cancelled or suspended. But time heals and the distortion of the image cannot be seen as a lasting phenomenon.

About admin

Journalist, South Asian Analyst
This entry was posted in News. Bookmark the permalink.