2011“To the citizens, we are practically like walking porn. All eyes are on you all the time; it is complete voyeurism. The women double take, see you, and then pretend you do not exist. The men see your face, then your boobs, your butt, and then your boobs again! As we walk, all you hear is “IPL, IPL!” with a little head jingle!”- Gabriella Pasqualotto, IPL cheerleaderThe Indian Premier League is all of four. Gabriella Pasqualotto – a South African cheerleader – has stirred up a storm. The cricketers treat us like pieces of meat, she has said. She will soon be given the boot. And the IPL will toddle through. It will get by for at least seven more seasons.During this time, it will hobnob with Bollywood superstars and top advertisers. It will be accused by many of turning into a carnival of glitter, a true-blue ‘manoranjan ka baap’ (‘the king of entertainment’), laced around an ebbing semblance of a ‘sporting event’.2015“The music is loud enough and the accents are thick enough; I’m mostly oblivious to the words. This doesn’t mean I can’t tell that there are some obvious slime-balls behind me. I try my best to ignore them.”- Anonymous IPL cheerleaderThe League is now eight. And ageing with awkward angst. BCCI has barred all interactions between cricketers and cheerleaders in order to avoid ‘controversies’. They stay in separate hotels and travel separately too. This time, an American cheerleader has dug out the skeletons from the closet. She has answered questions anonymously – on a Reddit thread – about what transpires, out of sight, at the IPL.2019The IPL turns 12.A deafening roar pulsates across the air as a team of cheerleaders, upbeat and frenzied, move to the music blaring from the loudspeakers. I keep my eyes glued to the screen. One girl stands out. She is smiling – a smile that seems to have frozen into resignation.The crowd erupts into thunderous applause every time a player scores, drowning out the music and the cheerleading. There is a staggering silence every time a player doesn’t score. It is understood that there is a primal release of energy on the field that... must not be steered in the wrong direction.But...What if it is?“We sometimes get trash thrown at us. I just ignore it...”- Anonymous IPL cheerleaderIt’s funny how the release of energy, by way of raw emotions, is more often than not cruel. Imagine how much worse it gets in the case of ‘cheerleading’ – a feminine aide to sports? The figure of the ‘cheerleader’, quite seamlessly, translates into an object of meaningless pleasure.Would you roll with it?“There’s just so many nasty men making kissy faces and taking my picture that I tend to just block it all out.”- Anonymous IPL cheerleader The tragic truth is that the figure of the cheerleader in India has been swaddled with value-judgments since day one.“Skimpily-clad cheerleaders are degrading to women and should be banned,” BJP leader Nitin Gadkari had said back in 2008, perhaps more concerned about policing the cheerleaders than policing the real problem.What happens when the body – at the workplace – becomes a liability?History Has it...Anyway, let’s rewind a bit. Cheerleading, as a sport, and as a sign of athletic prowess, can be traced back to 19th century America. And guess what? The first inceptions of cheerleading had all-men pep clubs rooting for players at Princeton.Around the time of the Second World War, the scene changed when more and more women took over, since most men were deployed for the War.What am I getting at?The sanctity – and purpose – of ‘cheerleading’ has definitely seen scary dilutions since then. Take home boy IPL as the most relatable example.What About Homeboy IPL?Not only do we have (mostly) white women at the matches – begrudgingly catering to a brown man’s sexualised gaze that would perhaps not want to see one of his kind on the podium – but also a rampant denigration of the women out there who are really just doing their job.Of course, the women are here of their own volition, and a ‘job is a job’, just as the cricketer’s job is to play, but nothing exists in vacuum. Context changes everything, right? ‘Cricket’ Vs ‘Cheerleading’?Think about it. The visual narrative socialises us to treat cricket as the masculine sport that serves as a surrogate vent of all aspirational energies and ‘cheerleading’ – and its messengers – as the backstage role of sorts, a silent feminine receptacle of left-over emotions... you know, the bright, smiling faces you see right before an ad break or when a player hits a six?Never, when the tension builds up during a match. Never when sh*t’s getting real.IPL’s ‘gender regime’ is a shocking regression into the past. And you would think a stadium full of diehard fans, united by manic solidarity, is enough to cheer cricketers during matches, but...Alas.The baap of manoranjan seems to need more to keep eyes glued. No matter what the consequences. We'll get through this! Meanwhile, here's all you need to know about the Coronavirus outbreak to keep yourself safe, informed, and updated. The Quint is now available on Telegram & WhatsApp too, Click here to join.