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Thinking Through Indian Cricket: Detriments Of Idealising Sacrifices Of Mothers

When we think of our favourite cricket player, the default choices are almost always male players. While "who is your favourite female cricket player?" is a socially sanctioned valid question, we know there is no such thing as a 'male cricket player'.

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Shrinkhala Lal
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In October 2016, the Indian men's cricket team stepped out wearing their mothers' names on their jerseys for the first and only time. I remember the day. Star Sports channel talked about the players' jerseys more than the ongoing match itself. They were elated to have "turned the spotlight on women/mothers once again, under their 'Nayi Soch' campaign.". Each player was made to talk about their mother's contribution to their respective mushrooming careers. Much like all the other Indian reality shows, the sacrifice of women/mothers was celebrated and idealised. Even though the gesture arouses genuine appreciation, it has to be scrutinised on several fronts.
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How often do we see young girls claiming the physical 'space' in playgrounds? If mothers are of such colossal pride for us, why can we not always wear their names on the back of our jerseys? If 'always' is too much to ask for, why did we not witness another such day? Why do we have to turn spotlights on women? Why can it not stay on them as it does on men? 

To begin with, we must analyse the gendered facet of the game of cricket. Cricket was cultivated in the roots of India by the colonisers as a way of demonstrating cultural superiority and cultivating masculine traits amongst the men, thereby tilting the game towards one sex since its very inception. Looking beyond the patriarchal origin of cricket, nothing fascinates, divides and brings Indians together more than this game. It is omnipresent, from the sight of young boys playing cricket in any small or large open space to the media coverage and peer discussions (including explicitly harsh criticisms) on the performance, selections, scores, team and more. It is an emotion, more like a religion, with an attached sense of patriotism and identity. Like the game, cricket players are also hailed as iconic celebrities amongst the Indian masses. 

However, we 'bleed blue' for the 'men in blue' way more than we do for the 'women in blue'. Gender is a ubiquitous universal dividing force in all societies, stratifying every aspect of it. Also, we seldom find representation from marginal gender identities. By 'we', I do not just mean the spectators and fans. Indian women's cricket team evidently receives lesser funding, sponsorship, support base, viewership, matches/leagues, salaries/resources, institutionalisation, and legitimation. It never grew parallelly with Men's Cricket.

Gender Gap In Indian Cricket

When we think of our favourite cricket player, the default choices are almost always male players. While "who is your favourite female cricket player?" is a socially sanctioned valid question, we know there is no such thing as a 'male cricket player'. It is true for almost all other professions as well. With all due respect to Sachin Tendulkar, we even happen to have a 'God' of Cricket, and the game is called a 'gentleman's game'. A cricket bat (along with other 'hardcore' outdoor sports items) is often an obvious birthday gift choice for a male child. Prejudice also reflects in the media's coverage of the women's team victory. 

The famous saying, "behind every successful man, there is a woman”, is thought-provoking. Behind that successful man in the proverb is not just a woman but her entire life; her(/their) ambitions, dreams, desires, independence, choices, and whatnot. That mother/ sister/ daughter/ partner then remains confined to that role for good in her/their life. The possibilities of attaining any other identity of their own get very restricted. This sacrifice might be some people's choice. But generalising it as a trait of 'womanhood' and idealising it so that those who differ are devoid of their very femininity, motherhood, or gender identity, or are seen as bad examples of the same, is unjust. 

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Women/people with vaginas push out an entire living being out of their bodies, and they do not even get to pass on their names. In fact, they themselves are among the inheritors of surnames. It among other innumerable things illustrates how the mainstream-malestream society cunningly and conveniently lays out the game of superficially valuing women only at significant public events to make up for all other times when their bare-minimum desires are dismissed. With all respect for the sacrifices and contributions of mothers, this gesture alone does not do much practical good. 

A combination of economic and class power, religious authority, sexual norms and brute force has created this patriarchal system. Even if women have participated on unequal terms, they have collaborated in making it. These norms, though influential, are not innate coercive rules that cannot be acted against. If they persist, it is only because we choose to abide by them. Thus, negotiation, refusal, rejection, compromise, transformation, and resistance must continuously reflect in people's life choices. Recent times in cricket have seen some positive baby steps. A 'Batsman' is now a 'batter'. These sensible, subtle and yet bare minimum amends are a must to keep the hope for equality sane and sailing. 

Views expressed are the author's own.

Shrinkhala Lal is a 21-year-old final year Master’s student of Women’s Studies at Tata Institute of Social Science, Mumbai.


Suggested Reading: Indian Women’s U19 Cricket Team’s World Cup Victory Celebration Goes Viral

 

Indian women's cricket motherhood
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