The family of Vandana Katariya, Forward player in the women’s hockey team, faced casteist abuse soon after the women’s team lost the Olympics semi-final match against Argentina. Few upper caste men burst crackers and danced shirtless outside her house, celebrating the defeat of the women’s hockey team and mocking her. The men said, “Indian team lost because it had too many Dalit players.”
Katariya was part of the team that won a bronze medal in the junior world cup in Germany in 2013 and was also the top scorer for striking five goals in four matches. Katariya was awarded with the Hockey India’s Player of the Year award in 2014 at the 2014–15 FIH Hockey World League. Katariya became the first Indian woman to hit a hat-trick in the history of Olympics.
However, despite Katariya’s achievements she is not treated as just a hockey player; she is looked at as a “Dalit”, somebody who is not acceptable. Her caste becomes a hurdle for her existence as a sportsperson. It is upsetting that Katariya, a star hockey player, appeared in the news as just another name facing caste and gender-based attacks.
Many such incidents have made headlines in the past where players hailing from Scheduled Castes background have been ridiculed and belittled for their caste identity. They have been bullied, discriminated against and abused by their fellow players and faced backlash from the audience.
It was not very long ago that former cricketer Yuvraj Singh casually uttered a casteist slur for a fellow cricketer, Yuzvendra Chahal, in a live chat session with Rohit Sharma on Instagram. He said, “In ‘Bhangi’ logon ko kuch kaam nahi hai, yeh Yuzi ko.” Later he apologised as people on Twitter took strong objection to his comments. In another instance, Suresh Raina declared that he is a Brahmin even when the question was not about his caste. The explicit display of caste pride unveils the existence of caste within the reins of cricket. When people criticised Raina, Ravindra Jadeja came in his support tweeting, “#RAJPUTBOY FOREVER. Jai hind”.
The film industry too looks the other way when it comes to casual use of casteist slurs. Recently Taarak Mehta ka Oolta Chasma actress Munmun Dutta was booked for the use of casteist slur in a live chat session. TV actress Yuvika Chaudhary also used the same casteist slur during a video recently.
The under-representation of Scheduled Castes in sports reflects the grave reality of caste- based discrimation in the country. It is no hidden truth that popular games do not witness shining stars hailing from the Scheduled Castes. Even if a few enter international games where they represent India and win, they do not receive the same applause as upper castes players do.
Indian cricket team represents India but how diverse is the team itself? Most of the cricketers come from a few “privileged” communities. In a special article of EPW, it is stated that in the history of 85 years of test cricket only four out of 289 male cricketers belonged to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Recently an event called the Brahmin cricket tournament was organised in Hyderabad, which attracted discussion on exclusion as a structural issue in cricket. The invisibility of players from marginalised backgrounds has simulated a much discussed issue of reservations in Indian cricket team.
Inaccessibility is undeniably a major hurdle as people from remote areas are not able to come through due to lack of infrastructure. Unavailability of equipment, ground, coach, etc, are some major reasons behind inaccessibility. Sports complexes are in cities and players from rural backgrounds cannot really afford to utilise these facilities. People hailing from marginalised sections generally do not have the financial support to carry on with regular sports practice.
Pursuing sports in our country seems a privilege since it needs social, economic and cultural capital. Marginalised people are invisible in sports due to layers of obstacles in the form of caste discrimination, poverty and lack of opportunities. It is important for authorities to make sure to provide adequate facilities for marginalised players so that Indian sports become more diversified and inclusive. Selectors from the initial level of selections should ensure representation from all communities.
Government needs to establish a more concrete system to ensure maximum participation of players from the marginalised sections. Government must ensure social security to the families of marginalised players. Caste-based attack in any way should be a punishable offence. Authorities must take vital steps to put a pause on such incidents.
To put an end to any sort of caste practice and to establish equality, liberty and fraternity in Indian society is what Krantijyoti Savitribai Phule must have dreamt and worked for. To ensure justice against gender atrocities is why Phoolan Devi held a sword. History can trace the imprints of strong women who fought against caste and patriarchy simultaneously and inspired millions of people. P.T. Usha, Hima Das, Thulasi Helen, Vandana Katariya and many more are fighting each day to carry on that legacy.