As British Asians, India vs Pakistan Makes Us Feel Closer to Home
“Having a team with players who had the same skin colour as me made me feel like I belonged,” writes Nikesh Rughani.
India vs Pakistan is the biggest sporting rivalry in the world. More than 1.5 billion people will testify to that. When the two play cricket, many corners of the globe come to a standstill. When they play in an ICC tournament, it’s much bigger than just ‘bragging rights’.
The two will go head to head again on 4 June when they meet for the ICC Champions Trophy group match in Birmingham, England.
The UK is home to over 2.5 million people with Indian or Pakistani roots. A majority of these were born in the UK, and several have never been to their motherland. So where does this love for the India and Pakistan cricket teams come from? Yes, you would be right in thinking that some British Asians support England, because they were born there.
But that vast majority still fail the so called ‘Tebbit test’ – a phrase coined by conservative politician Norman Tebbit in 1990. He suggested that immigrants in the UK who support the cricket teams of their country of origin, instead of the England team, are not significantly integrated into the United Kingdom.
Well Mr Tebbit, I’m proud to say that I have failed your test with flying colours. I was born in Leicester, England, in 1984. My grandparents were born in India. My parents completed much of their schooling in England, and I was the first generation of my family to be born in the UK.
It was my father who got me into cricket in the early 1990s, watching England play on television. We used to talk about Indian cricket a lot, but due to the lack of media in those days, I didn’t see India, or the great Sachin Tendulkar play, until their tour to England in 1996. That’s when I really fell in love with cricket, and in particular, Indian cricket.
I was lucky that racism in the UK wasn’t as bad in the 1990s, as it was when my parents went to school in the 1970s. I still received the occasional odd remark at my school, where I was one of just a few British Asians. I always felt British, and English, and even wore my England football shirt proudly as a child.
But having a national team from India, with players who had the same skin colour as me, the same culture and some superstar players, really made me proud. I felt I had something to which I belonged. Supporting the Indian cricket team was something that brought many British Indians together. It gave us all a sense of community.
It perhaps didn’t help that I – along with dozens of others in my age group – felt discriminated against whenever we went for any kind of county or regional cricket trials. We felt that we were treated differently because of our race, and had to perform twice as well as anyone else in order to be considered for selection.
That immediately made us feel that we weren’t going to be accepted as part of the wider English cricket set up. Thankfully, things have changed for the better in recent years.
British Pakistanis, from what I have seen, have similar stories. It is an identity thing – it’s difficult for many of us British Asians to feel a sense of belonging anywhere. Growing up, if I went to India, I was seen as British. In the UK, I was seen as Indian. My parents were both born in East Africa.
I may be an example of the modern, diverse world that we live in, but supporting the Indian cricket team, and that sense of belonging, is the only part of my identity that has been consistent.
British Asians are unique and multiply rooted. They are secure in their Indian or Pakistani identities and are ‘loyal’ citizens of Britain.
India and Pakistan have a long history, ever since Partition nearly 70 years ago, with several wars, political differences etc. But generally, most people from both countries have more similarities than differences. That’s even more so the case with British Asians, who have grown up in the same world as each other, regardless of where their ‘mother country’ is.
I have friends who are huge supporters of the Pakistan cricket team. When India play Pakistan, the stakes are high. There’s banter – lots of it, and occasionally heated. During the game, there is no contact. At the end of it all, someone will be ridiculed depending on the results.
But after that, hands will be shaken, and everybody will move on. Not because cricket isn’t important, but because life is more important.
India vs Pakistan on 4 June will be massive. The global TV audience will probably go on to break more records. Fans from both sides will be passionately supporting their teams at Edgbaston. And hopefully, the few idiots that like to turn up to these events to cause trouble, will be disciplined, so that both sides can come together and shake hands in the spirit of the game.
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