New Delhi: “Abusing someone on Twitter is not patriotic. Even if you make a small contribution towards the progress of this country, you are a true patriot. Whatever work you do honestly is in itself a patriotic act.”
When Irfan Pathan speaks these words, they come from the experience of being a match-winner with bat and ball for the Indian cricket team. And also from the experience of having his patriotism questioned, trolled and abused for expressing his opinions on social media.
In the wake of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement in the US and elsewhere, Pathan had tweeted in early June: “Racism is not restricted to the colour of the skin. Not allowing to buy a home in a society just because u have a different faith is a part of racism too… #convenient #racism”.
— Irfan Pathan (@IrfanPathan) June 9, 2020
The tweet received support and praise from many, but also a massive backlash. But Pathan stood his ground, reiterating: “My opinions are always as an Indian and for India, I will not stop…”
My opinions are always as an indian and for India,I will not stop…
— Irfan Pathan (@IrfanPathan) June 10, 2020
In an interview with ThePrint, Irfan Pathan spoke at length about a range of issues, like social media, patriotism, politics and cricket. And he had a simple message for those who trolled/abused him and questioned his patriotism.
“If cricketers lose a match, their patriotism is questioned; if they win, they’re true desh-bhakts. But patriotism is not decided by the outcome of a match. To be a patriot means doing your job sincerely,” he said.
Twitter trolling means nothing
Irfan Pathan, 35, who played 29 Tests, 120 ODIs and 24 T20 Internationals for India between 2003 and 2012, has regularly expressed his opinion on the state of affairs in India on Twitter, often earning the ire of online trolls. But he dismisses this “pressure” as a matter of habit.
“I have always been under pressure while playing cricket. Got dismissed, took wickets, and ensured several Indian victories, all under pressure. When millions of people have their eyes on you, there’s always pressure, but you want to make the country win. Compared to this, the pressure on Twitter doesn’t matter one bit,” he said.
Pathan says none of his social media comments are off the cuff.
“It is not like that I wake up in the morning and start tweeting if there is a hashtag trending on the net. I do not get easily impressed by the news items being reported in the media. Instead, I confirm them with the help of my own sources. If I tweet about any incident in any city, then before doing that, I call three or four people living there to ascertain the truth,” he said.
“However, if I feel like expressing my inner thoughts on something, I present my point firmly, because that’s the way to do it. Then, it doesn’t matter if there is an IT cell or not, I don’t pay attention to it,” said the Vadodara-born all-rounder.
Being a celebrity and speaking out
Pathan had been vocal about last year’s violence at Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi, in a country where celebrities generally shy away from controversial issues because there’s a threat of a loss of income.
An example of this was actor Deepika Padukone’s appearance at a protest at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University — the Union Ministry of Skill Development dropped a promotional video featuring her, while there was a loud clamour on social media for her film Chhapak to be boycotted.
But Pathan asked what is the point of earning a livelihood by supporting someone’s wrongdoings, and gave the example of the final leg of his first-class cricket career for illustration.
“I used to play for Baroda, but after that I played one year of domestic cricket for Jammu and Kashmir, and then mentored its team for a couple of years. Several people said it will ruin my carrier, but I still went to Jammu, and several other doors opened up,” said the man with 301 international wickets — 100 in Tests, 173 in ODIs and 28 in T20Is.
“It’s as my father says — don’t be afraid.”
The Delhi Police have been accused of bias in the charge sheets filed in cases related to the February riots in the north-eastern part of the capital city. Asked about this, Pathan said: “Fighting each other is not good for the country. No religion can be favoured over another. We have to talk about humanity.”
Unity in the cricket team
Pathan also spoke about the recent controversy involving current India all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja’s assertion of his caste identity, when he tweeted with the hashtag #RajputBoy. The former left-arm fast bowler said the team had never been about caste or religious identity.
“Believe in whoever you like. In the Indian cricket team, there are players with diverse backgrounds from across the country. But when you get to the pitch, you do not prioritise your caste, religion or belief. You are on the field as an Indian,” he said.
Pathan recalled his hat-trick in a Test match against Pakistan in Karachi in 2006, when he dismissed top batsmen Salman Butt, Younis Khan and Mohammad Yousuf. He said he felt “at the top of the world”.
“What could be better than the fact that the country remembers that after so many years. I had prepared well and all three batsmen I dismissed were top-quality,” he said.
“I miss playing. One can never get a feeling like taking a hat-trick on Twitter, but it is also important to interact on social media. I feel good when people support my views on unity,” he added.
‘Was offered tickets by two political parties’
Asked if he had thought about a political career, Pathan said: “People often say that I will not be able to get any ticket or join any party, and that’s why he keeps talking like this. Let me tell you that ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, I was offered tickets by two political parties. But at that time I wanted to play cricket.
“I was again asked to contest in 2019, but I was not sure. Even if I join politics in the future, I won’t be there for my name, but for the sake of my work. I have always worked with honesty, and if I join politics, I will remain honest,” he said.
Irfan Pathan also took a shot at the media, saying it is dividing people while he talks about uniting them.
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