Reader Tom called my attention to a report in the sports section of the Sydney Morning Herald, which combines our current interest in sports with our constant interest in religion and its malfeasance. According to the report, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, captain of the Indian national cricket team, has been issued an arrest warrant for “hurting the religious sentiments of Hindus.”
Now I don’t know from cricket, and I doubt I’ll ever be able to work up any interest in it, but it is the most popular sport in one of the world’s most populous countries, as well as in much of the world. Tom called Dhoni “captain of the most influential sporting team in the world”; I don’t know what that means, exactly, but perhaps readers can enlighten me. And Dhoni is noted in his Wikipedia article as “widely regarded as one of the greatest finishers in limited-overs cricket.” I have no idea what limited-overs cricket is, or what a silly mid-on is. I’m happy to be ignorant: soccer fully fills the “sports module” in my brain.
At any rate, the Herald reported:
The case was filed last year against the 32-year-old after the cover of an Indian magazine carried a picture of him portrayed as a Hindu god.
The bailable warrant was issued after Dhoni failed to appear before the court despite three summons. The next date of hearing has been set for July 16.
Dhoni is currently touring with the Indian squad in England, where the team will play five Tests, five one-day internationals and one Twenty20 international.
Yerraguntla Shyam Sunder, a member of the right-wing Vishva Hindu Parishad party, filed the petition in March this year objecting to the picture of Dhoni.
“The court’s move was necessitated as Dhoni did not accept the summons sent previously. These warrants are only to make him accept and appear before the court,” Gopal Rao, the advocate representing Yerraguntla Shyam Sunder, told the Hindustan Times.
Roa also told the Hindustan Times that if Dhoni refused to appear before the court an arrest warrant which did not allow bail could be issued.
Here’s the offending magazine cover:
Now how can Dhoni be prosecuted for that? It surely wasn’t his decision to be portrayed that way.
Dhoni has been slurred before, in accusations of corruption. My Indian friends tell me that cricket in their country is deeply corrupt: both in the betting and in the teams themselves, who can either throw games or even mis-hit balls, since bets are placed on individual batters as well as game outcomes. Nevertheless, the man is enormously popular and rich: $30 million US is an absolute fortune in India:
A fortnight ago [Dhoni] was listed by Forbes magazine as the 22nd highest paid athlete in the world, and the only cricketer in the top 100, with earnings of $US30 million in 2013. The magazine said $26m of Dhoni’s earnings had arrived through endorsements.
The wicketkeeper-batsman is due to lead India in Australia this summer, when they will play four Tests against Michael Clarke’s No.1 ranked team and then take part in a one-day tri-series with Australia and England in the lead-up to the 2015 World Cup.
Since the rise of the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) and its Hindu-centric philosophy, India has become more religiously intolerant, with Hindus crying about hurt feelings nearly as often as Muslims. Author Wendy Doniger, (a Chicago colleague) had her recent book about Hinduism (The Hindus: An Alternative History) pulled by Penguin from Indian booksellers and pulped (I wrote about this February) because a few Hindus complained that it presented their religion in a poor light.
And it’s not just Hindus: rationalist Sanal Edamaruku is facing arrest in his country for exposing a “miracle statue” of Jesus in Mumbai (which supposedly produced water) as a case of faulty plumbing in a nearby loo. For that he faced prosecution under India’s outdated blasphemy laws, and is now in exile in Finland, afraid to go back to India.
India is the world’s largest democracy. I love the country and its people, although the increasingly virulent strain of religious fervor scares me. If they want to keep setting an example of how a democracy can function when it encompasses such a diverse people, they need to get rid of those stupid blasphemy laws. I don’t know about Dhoni’s honesty in playing cricket, but he doesn’t deserve prosecution for being portrayed as Krishna.