With the ongoing Pakistan Super League tournament in Dubai and the upcoming World T20 tournament scheduled to be held in India this March, cricket is in the air. Yet a cricket lover and diehard fan of Indian star batsman, Virat Kohli, awaits his fate in a jail in district Okara, Punjab.
Umar Daraz, a young man in his early 20s from village 54/2L, was arrested on January 26 when an excited Daraz is said to have displayed the Indian flag on his small house to celebrate the Indian victory in a recent T20 match against Australia. His favourite, Virat Kohli, led the team with his winning innings of 90 runs.
Daraz, an illiterate tailor who runs a shop in his village, is facing up to 10 years imprisonment for displaying the flag of India, considered an ‘enemy’ country in Pakistan. “Seeing his extraordinary excitement, the neighbours called the police on telephone,” says Rana Imran, a local police officer who had registered the complaint against Daraz.
Daraz is being charged under Section 123-A of the Pakistan Penal Code — that deals with acts of undermining the sovereignty of the country — and under Maintenance of Public Order (16MPO). He is waiting for the civil court’s judgment on his arrest which is expected soon.
District Police Officer Faisal Rana told the media that, as per investigations, Daraz’s act was spontaneous following the Indian victory in a match. The whole village knows he is a great fan of Indian cricketer Kohli, he said. Police also seized dozens of posters and pictures of Kohli pasted on the walls of his house.
Daraz’s counsel has also pleaded before the court that his client had no bad intention while hoisting the Indian flag and all he wanted was to celebrate the victory of his favourite team and player.
Kohli, a young star cricketer in his late 20s, has mega fan-ship within India and across the world. He has almost 24 million likes on his official Facebook page. He also has around 9.4 million followers on Twitter. This is not the only instance where an Indian cricketer or Indian film star has had a fan following in Pakistan.
“The cricket-loving youth of this village play matches as a matter of routine. They used to call one team Pakistan and the other India,” says a local police investigator. “Daraz was always a part of the team named after India and this way he developed sentiments for the Indian team and its players.” He says the whole village openly knows about these teams and recognises Daraz as an ardent Kohli fan. The accused Daraz told the police that he loves Pakistan very much and his act was just an expression of excitement and his love for Kohli as a cricketer. “Now it is up to the court to decide whether his act was criminal or based on innocence,” says the investigator.
“Many people in the village, including Daraz himself, think that he has a resemblance with the Indian batsman,” says Muhammad Amir, a resident of the village. “His family is scared because heavy contingents of police raided their house after the neighbours lodged the complaint.” Amir does not rule out the possibility of the neighbours having some grudge against the family.
Lawyer and human rights activist Hina Jilani thinks it is quite strange to invoke the law on a young man who has acted without any bad intention. “The boy has not committed any crime. He has not acted against sovereignty of Pakistan. He has not disrespected Pakistan and he has not undermined the integrity of his country. He has only shown for a team and a player that he likes. And we all know that sports are universal and the fan-ship of sportspersons cuts across boundaries.”
Invoking such sections in these incidents amounts to mockery of the law and misusing it, she thinks. “These things are further increasing enmity in the minds of our children.”
She demands that the government should immediately take action against framing of such charges and urges the court to either not hear or quash such complaints which are baseless and without any criminal intention.
Shiv Sena, an extremist group in India, has reacted to the news, saying Pakistan has once again displayed its hatred for India.
While Pakistan has announced its team to participate in the ICC World Twenty20 tournament in India, the team’s participation is still dependent on the approval of the prime minister.
India, recently, refused to play a bilateral cricket series with Pakistan that was supposed to be held at a neutral place. The current diplomatic situation between India and Pakistan, especially after the attack on the Pathankot airbase in India a month and a half ago that India blames on non-state actors from Pakistan, is tense. There are debates on whether India should play cricket with Pakistan.
Interestingly, a few weeks before Daraz was arrested, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was a chief guest at a gathering in Karachi to celebrate Diwali. Addressing that specially arranged event, Sharif said he was prime minister of all communities in the country and he assured to safeguard their rights, including those of Hindus. He expressed his desire to be among the Hindus “in the colourful event of Holi in which multi colours are sprayed.” The PM’s speech was perhaps intended to send a message of peace and convey the desire for friendly relations with India.
Daraz’s family, relatives and counsel are quiet on the issue because of the environment prevalent in the village and the fear of their boy’s persecution in this case that terms him ‘anti-Pakistan’. The civil society, meanwhile, has urged the government to intervene and free Daraz as a good gesture.