By now the world knows the story. At least 66 Kashmiri students were suspended from Meerut Swami Vivekanand Subharti University in Srinagar because they supported Pakistan in a recent cricket match, via Daily Mail (h/t CapitalBay.com).
Being part of the Asian Cup, the game was televised, which likely fueled the initial response of charging these men with sedition. Those charges have officially been dropped.
News of the suspension, however, has sparked protest among those who support these students. Yasin Malik, leader of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front was arrested as a result of the protests, along with a half-dozen of his supporters.
Muteebul Majid was studying business administration at the university until the incident last Sunday. As far as he is concerned, neither he nor any of his Kashmiri friends did anything wrong. When talking to the press, he raised the question of whether the charges resulted from what they did or who they are.
In his own words: “Are they slapping these charges against us for being Kashmiris or for cheering for the Pakistani team?” Perhaps it would have been wiser of them to play Pickleball instead.
Another student, Gulzar Ahmed, raised questions about how the police handled the incident, citing how he and his friends were being assaulted with stones and yet the police did nothing to bring charges against them.
He complained that none of them were ever given the chance to explain their actions; they were simply escorted to the railway station and ordered to go home.
What makes this even more sad is that if there is one unifying force between India and Pakistan, it's cricket.
It is sobering to consider just how quickly something as innocent as a Test match between rival teams can take a bad turn, but that is exactly what happened here.
Cricket has both a unifying and dividing power in this part of the world, and for many, it's not so much about a game as it is about national pride. People take it seriously enough to turn their passion for the game into a contest over politics.
Pakistan and India have a long-standing rivalry in the world of cricket, and the actions of these students sent shockwaves that could have altered the course of their lives. Fortunately, it looks as though cooler heads have prevailed, at least for now.
As their team readies to take on Sri Lanka in the Asian Cup final Pakistan responded to the students' suspension with what can only be seen as a move to better its own public relations profile.
Tasnim Aslam, spokeswoman for the Pakistani Foreign Office, made it clear that Pakistan would welcome the students to study there, via NDTV.com (h/t The Washington Post). “If the Kashmiri students want to come and pursue their studies in Pakistan, our hearts and academic institutions are open to them,” she said.
The students have since declined this invitation.
Dhaka plays host to this year's Asian Cup final on Saturday which will see Pakistan pitted against Sri Lanka. Pakistan will be looking to its runners, Ahmed Shehzad and Umar Akmal to keep them on pace for victory. Shahid Afridi, with two match-winning innings so far during this tournament (one of which included their one-wicket victory over India) is another player to watch on Saturday.
On the Sri Lanka side, Lasith Malinga and Kumar Sangakkara will be key players. Malinga has proved to be the team's most effective bowler this season, while Sangakkara leads the tournament in runs thus far. These are two very capable teams, so predicting the outcome is a difficult call. Both teams will have to bring their very best.