Bangladeshi cricket fans’ joy at India losing against Australia – Indian reactions and Bangladeshi counter-reactions explored

Bangladeshi cricket fans’ joy at India losing against Australia – Indian reactions and Bangladeshi counter-reactions explored

By M Ahmedullah, 26 November 2023

Young people are fashion-conscious, develop strong group identities, engage in both harmful and harmless group rivalry, and they are also more careless than older people when expressing themselves. What should have been seen as harmless bantering by some Bangladeshi cricket fans – similar to how many sports fans around the world behave during and after sports matches, except the hooligans who cause violence and destruction – has been turned into a harmful and more significant issue. In addition to many types of negative comments from some Bangladeshi cricket fans about the Indian cricket team a young Bangladeshi female cricket fan stated in an interview that if there were a cricket match between the India team and a banana tree (kola gas) team, they would still support the banana tree team rather than India. Comments like this must have hurt the feelings of many Bengali Indians who developed very strong anti-Bangladesh sentiments, as can be clearly seen from many social media posts. 

Social media is full of extreme, vitriolic and nasty views expressed by all kinds of people, including Bangladeshi and Indian Bengalis on this topic. The views expressed and sentiments shown on social media by these two groups have on the whole been confrontational and rather charged with respect to each other, although there are people on both sides who have articulated reasoned positions.

The social media controversy started with certain people in West Bengal showing paternalistic attitudes towards Bangladesh and Bangladeshis as a result of the ‘anti-Indian’ feelings expressed by some young Bangladeshi cricket fans. Many of them generalised and accused ‘ungrateful Bangladeshis’ of forgetting that it was India who created Bangladesh and now feeds Bangladesh. In addition, some West Bengal commentators even claimed that the anti-Indian views expressed by the Bangladeshis were due to India being a Hindu majority country, the influence of rajakars and madrasa education and the anti-Indian Bangladeshis being descendants of rajakars . On the other hand, many Bangladeshi social media posts have responded by pointing out that what they import from India and their visits to India for tourism and medical treatments are not handouts from India. Rather, they pay for them, and, as a result, India earns a lot of money. Some have accused the Indian cricket team of being cheaters and Indian fans behaving very badly with Bangladeshi fans in previous matches.

I have seen several social media posts where people in Bangladesh were asked who they would support in an India-Pakistan cricket match. There were both Indian and Pakistan supporters among the interviews posted, and the majority of them said they would support Pakistan. The reasons for supporting one or the other team varied, but some Bangladeshis who said they would support Pakistan stated that the common Islamic religion was the reason.

Obviously, on this controversy some bigger issues are also at play. What are they? First, I believe Bangladeshi people do not like the paternalistic and big-brother attitudes coming from India. Nobody likes that, including India, when it comes to the USA and the West. India expects and have recently started to get respect from the big powers around the world, which wasn’t the case not long ago. Bangladeshis feel that India does not respect Bangladesh and Bangladeshis, and India wants to keep Bangladesh dependent and expects Bangladeshis to forever express their gratefulness to India for helping create Bangladesh in 1971. In this regard, many Bangladeshis feel that India did not help create Bangladesh only to help free Bangladesh from Pakistan but acted in its interest to break-up Pakistan. 

Second, often there are implicit and sometimes explicit demands or expectations made by many Indians that Bangladesh and Bangladeshis should be anti-Pakistan and anti-Pakistani and be on the Indian side in the India-Pakistan rivalry – because India helped Bangladesh in 1971. These are irrational and unachievable demands and expectations. Some Indians also often make these explicit and implicit conditions for friendship or cooperation in various fields of human endeavours.

Third, successive Indian governments and a large number of Indian politicians and important personalities in the education and artistic fields have supported one political party, the Awami League, and the Bengali nationalists in Bangladesh – even when the Awami League has been occupying power illegitimately for more than a decade and engaging in large-scale human rights abuses.  There are still hundreds of disappeared people in Bangladesh.

Concerning Bengali Nationalism, for a long time, many in India, with their powerful voice, supplied Bengali nationalists and the Awami League in Bangladesh with narratives about our history and our cultural identity. More and more Bangladeshi people are becoming aware of how the Bengali cultural identity, as defined by the Bengali nationalists, excludes and delegitimises their own culture and identity and potentially represents a kind of cultural and identity genocide.

What are the ways forward, given where we are? First, India should stop expecting and demanding that all Bangladeshis be pro-India and anti-Pakistan and forever express their gratefulness to India for helping Bangladesh in 1971 during the awful bloody war launched by the military dictatorship of Pakistan. Bangladeshi people, in general – except for a few hard-nut Bengali Nationalists and members of the Awami League – do not hold Pakistani people responsible for the bloody actions of the Pakistani military junta in 1971, and, as such, they do not hate them as they had nothing to do with the war. Many people in Bangladesh love Pakistan and want to develop good friendships with Pakistanis – the same goes with India, especially West Bengal, being fellow Bengalis.

Indians and Bengali Nationalists in Bangladesh should stop trying to force Bangladeshis to be pro-Indians and anti-Pakistanis. Then, more people in Bangladesh would freely choose their preference for liking one without hating the other, at least not strongly. 

The last point relating to this topic is how can we promote better relations between the Hindus and Muslims in Bangladesh, given the history of many episodes of mutual violence during the 20th century that many people experienced and subsequent generations inherited the memory and pain of their parents and grandparents, the partition of India, the loss of property and the existence of all kinds of narratives from both sides that constantly act to keep the separation going and, in some cases, enlarging it. I have thought about it a great deal. As a Muslim and a Bangladeshi, I experienced, enjoyed, treasured and benefitted from incredible friendships with Indian Hindus, Sikhs and Pakistani Muslims all my life from the age of around eleven. I don’t want to lose any of that for any ideology or nationalism.  

There are many barriers standing in the way of reducing the gulf and conflicting perspectives and sentiments existing between Hindus and Muslims of Bengal. I have thought deeply about how we can improve communal relations in this regard. In my view, two of the main pathways presented for improving relations between Hindu and Muslim Bengalis are not only wrong but they are creating more problems. The first is the impossible attempt to impose a Bengali cultural identity, as defined by Bengali nationalists, on the people of Bangladesh, based on the misguided belief that we will be able to unite under a single cultural identity. According to this, for there to be improved relations Bengali Muslims and Bengali Hindus there is a need for Bangladeshi Muslims to adopt a ‘Bengali cultural identity’ lifestyle, outlook and mentality. The second is the idea that people have to become more secular – both Hindus and Muslims – to interact with each other without any communal badges. As most Muslims and Hindus of Bengalis are religious to different degrees, it is impossible to expect them first to become secular or join the path of secularism to improve relations between them. What happens until people become secular, which will be a very long time, if ever?

Accepting the right to be different and respecting that right will open the way for exploring the cultural differences and similarities between all kinds of groups and peoples. For example, the similarities and differences between Bangladeshi Muslims and Bangladeshi/Bengali Hindus, Pakistani Muslims and Indian Hindus and Silks; the similarities and differences between Bengali Hindus and Bangladeshi and Indian Muslims, Indian non-Bengali Hindus and Sikhs. In terms of culture and identity, there are similarities and differences between all these groups. I know that to be true intimately through interacting and living with diverse peoples over many decades, including the many ethnic and religious groups from the Indian subcontinent. I also know, through experience and research, the shifting nature of cultural practices and identities of groups and people.