Friday, April 8, 2011

Let us fast and protest against corruption this lent

There is just above two weeks remaining for the great lent to end. We have fasted, prayed, helped and grown spiritually. But have we really grown spiritually? Or are we fooling ourselves that we have? What really should lent and fasting lead to? Should it only lead to personal benefit or should it lead to a much larger social justice and equality in society? Anna Hazare has been fasting now for four days in Jantar Mantar in Delhi for more active involvement of civil society in the Jan Lokpal bill against corruption. Other people are joining the fast in many other parts of the country and they include people from all religions and walks of life in India.

The people who are joining the fast and more importantly joining Anna Hazare are children, women, people from the oppressed communities, and the middle class. In effect they are all people in India affected most by corruption. The UPA government in essence is not against such a bill but may be going safe on how much it should give to the people especially after the experience of the RTI bill which has been a big success and a weapon in the hands of the otherwise powerless Indian to hold the government accountable.

Anna Hazare is not asking for too much. How can a very important group for the bill which has to tackle corruption be constituted without any active participation of civil society? When the politicians themselves are under the scanner for scams and bribes how can they make this bill meaningful and who knows whether they won’t stall this bill for ever?

Different churches are also behind and are offering support for this movement as well. The media have been largely covering the unrest in various Arab countries including Yemen, Egypt, Bahrain and Libya. Huge protests by the people of these countries have led to great change. Egypt has been rid of its dictator Hosni Mubarak while Libya is fighting for change from Gadaffi. Little did we know that this unrest could reach India as well. Kashmir has always been a place where people protested against the government along with the North East but other states have been quiet. This fast by Anna Hazare has activated and brought alive the people of India in Jantar Mantar, different states in the North, South, East and West and even in the internet.

It would be appropriate at this point to take this fast very seriously. We are all thinking about the outcome of elections in different states and also preparing for passion week in various churches. This lent we could raise the bar a bit. We could make our fasting and make lent count for the millions in this country. As we congregate in different churches and places of worship we could bring about the feeling that we are fighting for something. This is not against one political party or a few individuals but against the very evil which resides in each and every one of us. This evil of corruption and nepotism should be rooted out of the country and also the church. But for that it should also be rooted out of each one of us.

This thus is a time when the whole country is observing lent. A great fast for a great thing. We are here going beyond religion, caste and social status. We are thus enacting the fast of Jesus to prepare him against the evil in society. If we have observed fasting and lent soberly till now, we have to observe fasting and lent with excitement and with the strength to protest. Thus it is indeed the time for being one with our brothers and sisters in India for the fight against corruption. If ever our lent needed to be counted, it is now.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Why the church is far from winning a cricket world cup?!

India has won the cricket world cup 2011. The euphoria has not settled down and state governments are competing with one another in offering rewards to its cricketers. We are all now part of a great cycle of celebration which no one can really neglect. The Indian cricketers have out done themselves. They have tamed the ghosts who have prevented major tournament victories. The Indian media on its part is leaving no stone unturned to bring the lives of the cricketers to the living rooms of the Indian public.

The church in India has never been very sport friendly. Seminarians will be fortunate if they find a piece of land to play a sport that they are familiar with. Churches will have elaborate parking spaces but no open spaces for sports. What little land was available as part of schools and colleges under the management of the church is also coming down and being replaced with buildings. Sports will be the last thing on the minds of Christian managements which are overly money minded these days.

What the church is usually used to is to play games on a totally different level. These don’t involve physical exertion but rather have to do with the mind. What could come close to a cricket match is the sledging that happens between teams during matches. This intimidation between denominations is done regularly. But cricket matches are not about intimidation and sledging and hurting each other anymore.

A great highlight of this world cup was that India basically played matches that were in a cordial atmosphere. If one analyses the quarterfinal, semi final and final with Australia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka respectively one will observe this atmosphere of deep respect and cordiality. Usually cricket matches don’t have this atmosphere. But the Indian team may have shown us a way of winning and making dreams come true without attacking and hurting anyone in the traditional sense. Even though the media loves to compare cricket matches with war, this cricket world cup did not necessarily bring out that adage.

Churches in India for some reason also imagine that they live in a war zone and are in constant tension with each other. This is given credence by the foot soldiers of denominations led by blood hungry generals. We are asked to give our best, to fight as if our lives depended on it and accept nothing short of victory. Sledging, cheating, and doing whatever it takes is the name of the game.

More interaction between cricketers these days mean that they know each other better and this has led to better respect. Even though a game is meant to be won it is not done at the expense of the friendship of one’s opponent. One would question this quoting the case of Sreesanth. But even Sreesanth in reality may only be using aggression as a way of marketing himself. It does not mean that he is not on good terms with other players.

One may challenge whether the church needs to compete in and win a world cup. Obviously there is no need for that. The analogy of a cricket world cup is rather one which gives insights to the church on how things have changed in this world. Aggression has given way to respect, non acceptance to understanding, and suspicion to trust. The world cup winning team should be seen in this perspective. The church need not accept cricket but the church can accept the new strategy of the Indian team. Till then a world cup win for the church will remain in all respects, a dream.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Cricket is not about being perfect

A majority of people in India are counting minutes and seconds as they continue to hope that their cricket team will win the final of the cricket world cup between India and Sri Lanka. The media have whipped up a frenzy in India with all English news channels having full length pre and post analysis of the match that is yet to be played. Prayers are being said in different languages and in different ways, all seeking divine intervention for the team. Will India win another world cup after its maiden and only triumph 28 years ago? That is the question on everyone’s lips. The expectation is so big and one wonders what the fuss is all about.

In a cricket mad nation there are other voices too. Those who say that after all cricket is but a sport like any other, that spending a whole day in front of the television is a waste of time, what is special in cricket when the national game in India is hockey and other sports and games are neglected by the government?, what has the cash rich Indian cricket board done for other cash strapped associations and the poor in this country?, and aren’t cricketers pampered brats who by and large enjoy life and play with the emotions of a billion people?

On the other hand cricket has become close to what is a religion in India which brings people together, gives hope for a people who otherwise don’t have much to hope for, gives a sense of purpose and confidence seeing India beat top teams in at least one game, and is very lucrative and attractive as youngsters see it as a way to become successful even if you are from a small time town.

The very supporters who are completely behind their famous players are the same ones who have attacked the houses of cricketers when they made early exists from earlier world cups and lost to Pakistan. The over the top belief in the players brings about extreme reactions on winning and losing. From promising to go nude to not eating food during the entire match, people have different ways of parting with something to make their team win. More than the players, it is the supporters who are trying almost everything to ensure a win.

But cricket is not about perfection and neither are cricketers perfect. This obsession we have brings about impractical and unbelievable acts. But the cricket world cup final is after all just a match like any other. The thrill of having India play is of course there but it should not make one crazy. Some points we could consider while watching the game are

1. Cricket is part of an industry. This includes different brands, merchandising, advertisement, and lots of money at stake. An industry always has its own compulsions and wants. Cricket then becomes a part of these and the game goes into the back ground.
2. Cricketers are human beings. The usage cricket God is only a usage. Cricketers are as vulnerable and susceptible to failure as any other human being. Putting someone on a pedestal puts unwarranted pressure on him/her.
3. A sport or game should not have nationalist overtures. The greatness of sport is that it can bring people together and break boundaries. When it is used to further nationalist ambitions, it loses the very purpose for which it exists.
4. Cricket means money and betting. A sport like cricket means a lot of money in a place like the subcontinent. Money brings in the possibility of betting and betting brings in the pressure of fixing matches. There have been a lot of allegations and no team is free from such allegations.
5. Cricket is entertainment. When we are able to detach cricket from nationalism, patriotism, diplomacy and pride, we end up with cricket as entertainment. Cricketers are entertainers. And we see cricket to relax and entertain ourselves. The IPL itself is a concept which has caught on to entertainment as its unique selling proposition (USP). When we see it this way we will be entertained thoroughly.
6. Cricket should give back what it receives. The cricket governing body the BCCI (The Board of Control for cricket in India) is a cash rich body which spends under 10% of its revenues on development of cricket. Then what does it spend its money on? As spectators we should pressurise the BCCI to give back what it receives from the people of this country. The pay back could be in the way of scholarships for youngsters from poor backgrounds, building housing for the poor, adopting whole villages and offering its money for building facilities there, providing health care to poor cricketers and their family and so on.

So, let the match begin. No pressure, no dreams. Only entertainment!!!