Trigger warning: Mentions of crematoriums, death
An empty stadium lights up as the jarring flood lights flicker on, commencing ‘India ka apna mantra’, aka the fourteenth edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL).
Hearts thud in anticipation across the country, as ardent fans sit glued to their television sets, their fingers crossed for their teams and players of choice. Meanwhile, a few miles from the same stadium, open fields bear witness to the wails of hundreds gathered to light the funeral pyres of their lost loved ones, as the crematoriums of the country struggle to keep up with the raging death toll.
With the total number of active COVID cases in the country steadily darting towards 3.5 million, millions of cricket fans remain blissfully oblivious. The glitz and glamour of the IPL can undoubtedly have this effect, more so since the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is looking at a revenue of more than 4000 crores from sponsorships alone, in less than a month.
On top of that, the BCCI has promised to create a ‘biosecure bubble’ for everyone involved in IPL 2021. So far, a whopping 10 crores have been spent in procuring 20,000 RT-PCR tests (used for detecting COVID-positive cases). Players are getting tested every two days in order to maintain this bio-bubble. Everyone seems to agree that the show must go on.
Nonetheless, there needs to be a certain point in the middle of this catastrophic pandemic when we step back and ask ourselves: should the show still go on?
Since the IPL started in April, there has been an officially estimated number of more than 30,000 deaths all over the country. The healthcare infrastructure in the country is crumbling, as thousands gasp for breath due to the severe shortage of medicines, hospital beds, ventilators, oxygen, and even crematoriums.
What is even more distressing is the fact that these cricketers- who stand on god-like pedestals as fans worship them- maintain their silence about the grim reality that the country is facing. Although we keep hearing the same generic message urging the public to wash their hands and maintain social distancing, is this truly enough in lieu of the current situation?
While international cricketers like Pat Cummins and Brett Lee have donated generously towards COVID relief work in India, and some players like Shoaib Akhtar have also spoken up about the gross negligence of the government, the inaction of Indian players is shocking, to say the least.
India is really struggling with Covid-19. Global support needed. Health care system is crashing. Its a Pandemic, we are all in it together. Must become each other's support.
Full video: https://t.co/XmNp5oTBQ2#IndiaNeedsOxygen #COVID19 pic.twitter.com/vX1FCSlQjs
— Shoaib Akhtar (@shoaib100mph) April 23, 2021
Subsequently, most of these donations are going to Narendra Modi’s PM Cares fund, against which several petitions under the Right To Information (RTI) have been filed, owing to concerns regarding its legitimacy. Some activists have gone as far as to call it “a blatant scam”.
However, nurturing this culture of silence (and silencing) is nothing we haven’t seen before. The star cricketers’ silence speaks volumes. It reminds one of their prolonged silence during the countrywide protests against the CAA-NRC-NPR, and more recently, the newly enacted Farm Bill. Their absolute denial in acknowledging the government’s inadequacy and negligence in the face of the pandemic should not be mistaken as ‘neutrality’; it is their privilege that allows them to remain complicit in the face of injustice.
It is important to remember that much-beloved players like Sachin Tendulkar, Suresh Raina, and Virat Kohli, along with several other prominent celebrities, were quick to jump to the government’s defence when foreign influencers like Greta Thunberg and Rihanna condemned the Farm Bill of 2020. In the same country, activists are constantly gagged and imprisoned, as in the case of climate activist Disha Ravi, who was arrested for circulating an online toolkit relating to Thunberg.
Some might argue that the IPL operates as an entity separate from the Indian government, but is that really the case?
The BCCI is headed by its secretary, Jay Shah, who in turn, happens to be the son of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and Home Minister Amit Shah, one of the most powerful men in the country.
As a result, the BCCI has been able to obtain numerous privileges from the government- including ‘separate check-in counters and corridors’ at the airports, as reported in The Guardian.
The decked-up stadiums that are being used to host these matches could easily be converted into healthcare facilities and COVID care centres since the BCCI have more than enough resources at their disposal.
Others might insist that the IPL provides a beacon of hope amidst the raging waves of death that are haunting the country and its people. Surely the IPL serves as a distraction from the disaster, but do we really need a mirage of normalcy at this point? Haven’t we seen enough diversions in the past seven years? The IPL with all its grandeur seems to ridicule the precariousness of the times we are in. Their unconcerned, and detached faces smiling on the television screen against the backdrop of the collapsing healthcare infrastructure and innumerable deaths seems to be tactless.
It is high time that we ask for accountability: not just from the government, but also from the privileged celebrities who choose to remain mum about the dire circumstances. It is important to keep in mind that only 1% of the population hoards more than 40% of all the wealth in the country. These are the people in power, who have the means and the privilege to create change and improve the condition.
It has been over a year since we have been collectively living under the shadows of ineffectual and poorly implemented lockdowns, utter mismanagement of resources, and very recently the farce of a democratic system that seeks to kill its own voter-base with irresponsible political rallies dripping with suicidal machismo.
This is not the time we numb ourselves with KFC and Pepsi before the 40-inch television sets gracing our sheltered living rooms like the ads would have us believe, nor is it the time we pretend that the world of cricket and entertainment exists in a vacuum above the clouds. Nothing but swift accountability and responsibility, and a swifter sense of shame will prevent things from getting worse if they are not already.
If ITBP can set up a makeshift COVID facility, if Ramlila Maidan can be converted into a COVID facility, why can’t our cricket stadiums do the same? BCCI has almost infinite resources to do this. The country needs help from all those who can. If only BCCI could think beyond IPL.
— Sanket Upadhyay (@sanket) April 28, 2021