Nation Divided Over Sarfraz’s Comments

By Shazia Habib
January 23, 2019
7 minutes

sarfraz ahmed, cricket

I woke up in the morning to a barrage of comments flooding my social media feed. News of Sarfraz using the word Kaalay on the cricket field (And that too, in South Africa!). Sarfraz fans defending him. Sarfraz fans attacking him. Anti-racism call outs. ‘Pro-Pakistani culture thing’ call-outs. It was a happening morning as online reactions grew to the on-field incident last night. (If you’ve been living under a rock or are in no way remotely connected to cricket, just turn on Facebook and you’ll read what I’m talking about). For those who would rather know here:

As Phehlukwayo, (SA Batsman) who was on 50 at the time, ran to the non-striker’s end, Sarfraz was heard on the stump microphone saying in Urdu: “Abey kaale, teri ammi aaj kahaan baitheen hain? Kya parwa ke aaye hai aaj?” When translated into English, that means: “Hey black guy, where’s your mother sitting today? What (prayer) have you got her to say for you today?”  This was in response to Phehlukwayo surviving multiple near-misses and cruising on to play a good innings at the pitch. – SA vs Pakistan 2nd. ODI at Durban on January 22nd. 2019

sarfraz ahmed, cricket

My instant reaction? I googled Andile Phehlukwayo, the South African batsman who seemed to have borne the brunt of Sarfraz’s marvellous commentary (that was very marvellously picked up by the stump microphones). Did he tweet a reply to our Pakistani captain? Has someone translated the “harmless banter” to him? (Not my words, just quoting the online reactions from Sarfraz supporters).

I also googled Sarfraz Ahmed to see if there was as an official statement/apology from him. But I came to the conclusion that social media followers are quicker to the chase than the victims and the villains of our story. Fans have risen to the defense or criticism of this incident. Everyone is taking sides, remember Ali Zafar and Meesha Shafi? We, as a nation, is devoid of analyzing an incident in isolation. It’s all about our jazbaat. And very jazbaati it was this morning.

So, after a quick call from my editor who also reacted to this incident btw, I thought about what this story actually meant to me. How wrong was it? And how much can we ‘let things go’? How should we react as rational, yet jazbaati cricket loving Sarfraz  fans, anti-racism supporters etc. etc. etc. Well the flood gates are open now as Sarfraz did just that; he gave it to them on a platter, didn’t he?  So what happens next? (Stump mics are a questionable accessory to have on the pitch, that we’re sure of). We decided to approach some very serious cricket enthusiasts and asked them what THEY think of the entire charade. This what we have for you, in a nutshell:

A fan conversation that took the path of reason, yet balanced negativity against our cultural conditioning: 

Shahneel Baray: ‘Shocked and Sad to see some people defending what Sarfu said and saying stuff like “it’s a joke” or “if we don’t call a black person Kaala what else would we call him”?. Just shows the amount of work required to untwist these brains. Sorry to say, this incident has just exposed our lack of education, widening the gap with the rest of the world and exposing the flaws in our culture 😞’

Arbaz AK: If Sarfaraz meant a racial slur he would have told him in language he understands, may be English or Swahili, but URDU? No, he was just reacting to how lucky the batsman was.

And Shahneel Baray replies: Arbaz AK it’s racism in a subconscious way. For him, this may have been normal. He probably hasn’t even realized what he said was racist, but at end of the day … it is. We are coming from a country where Benjamin Sisters openly sang a song called Kalu Deewane (on the tune of Disco Deewane), to mock the West Indies cricket team, which was aired on national television (PTV) multiple times in the 80’s.
Arbaz AK responds: When youth play a sport in the streets of the subcontinent they even call their besties with names which could be derogatory but at the end of the day, they are besties … Sarfraz is street smart from the streets.

We then turned to the Cricket pros and spoke to Saad Shafqat, an avid cricket enthusiast and writer.

While taking into account Sarfraz’s cultural conditioning, he called him out for not being more socially aware of the international repercussions of loose on-field comments. And this is what he had to say:

“I feel that gratuitous racism is embedded in our culture and it barely gets questioned. So judging by our own cultural mores, Sarfraz did nothing extraordinary. But he is an international captain and should have known where he was playing. It wasn’t in some desi backyard but in a foreign land under full media glare.”
sarfraz ahmed, cricket

We asked a young cricket supporter. After all the youth must have a take on this, and the youth is the voice of our nation! This is what 17 year old Zain Habib had to say:

“Banter or not … can’t use the language. Some are calling for him to be sacked as captain. Doesn’t matter how it’s taken, it’s wrong, and some black child somewhere is hearing about the language used by Sarfraz and losing faith in the whole country.

What Sarfraz said is a reflection of the casual racism in our culture.”

Then again, another fan, Sharak Nadeem has this to say:

“How is Sarfraz’s comment racism??
It was all in a lighter note.
Has the team/captain denied any rights to the black people in or outside the team on this tour??
It would have been if he would have refused to shake hands with him or refused to give him a seat in, say a bus, because he was black…
Matlab kaisay hai racism. 
Idhar Pakistan mein to aisay jokes aam chaltay hain, but no black person is denied his rights due to his skin colour and that would be racism.
Yes, given the history of SA, he should have been careful there and that should be it.
Itna barhanay ke kya zarorat hai. Pakistani awaam over sensitive aisay ho rahay jaisay kabhi khud aisay mazaq na kiye hon.
I sometimes call a friend with Dark complexion “Butt sb”..
And he is like:
“Sheikh sb jaan diya karo”
Because the legend says:
“Kaala butt teh mitha duwana (water melon) qismat waliyan nu labda” (You will be lucky if you find a dark complexioned person called Butt and a sweet water melon – because they are both very rare!)”

Sarmad Rafi was not so understanding. He called out the Pakistani captain on a racist slur and demanded he is sacked from captaincy!

“Sarfraz should be sacked from captaincy and the team. He is a disgrace for the Pakistan team with no manners. If he cant handle pressure then he does not deserve to be a captain. Racist comments are totally unacceptable on all counts.”

Nabeel Butt attempts to calm the waters as he counters:

“Relax. Our very own media calls West Indian team as “Kaali Aandhi” for decades. Sarfaraz did it out of ignorance. He didn’t mean it in a racist way. Everyone knows it. Yes he needs to be more professional in his conduct. But this issue shouldn’t be blown out of proportion.”

Finally we would like to round up with these comments from our Sports writer Mr. Sajid Butt who has summed it up well: 

“Calling someone a ‘racist’ is a serious charge which in this day and age cannot be taken lightly.

Comments by the Pakistan Cricket captain have been getting due media attention and once again the name of the country is being highlighted for all the wrong reasons. I personally do not think that his ill-thought out and off-the-cuff remarks showed in any way that he considered Andile Phehlukwayo to belong to ‘a race inferior to his own – which is the very definition of being a racist. However there is also no doubt about the fact that Sarfraz should have been more careful in his choice of words.

International athletes represent a whole nation and ought to be aware of this burden of responsibility which they are carrying on their shoulders, on and off the field. Sarfraz has a reputation of being a street smart cricketer and his own team mates have been shown to be at the receiving end of his sharp tongue with the entire world listening to his almost constant chatter from behind the stumps via the stump mike. This should have made him even more careful about what he was saying, particularly in South Africa – a country which has had a more than stormy relation with issues related to race and skin colour. Perhaps the Cricket board should have also taken some initiative and coached the players about their responsibility of representing the nation.

The skipper will get in the dock for his poor choice of words, as he should,  but I believe that there will be some good coming out of this unfortunate incident. Hopefully, the Pakistani public will get some education about the complex issue surrounding race and discrimination. We as a nation are taught” Hay say Hubshi’ in our earliest Urdu Qaidas, and have a lot of ground to cover to educate everyone about these issues.

Let this incident at least trigger a start, a conversation, and a call to action indeed!”

In Retrospect

Now that all our cricket fans have had their say. (And are still having it.). Let’s recap with the thoughts that Sarfraz Ahmed is the captain of our cricket team. He is loved, cherished, supported through thick and thin by Pakistani cricket fans the world over. In his defense, we have to say, … there is no defense. Loose comments, whether meant as an insult or a light banter are not welcome in an age where political correctness is the mantra of the day. Having said that, many of our cricketers do not hail from backgrounds where this type of talk is considered racist. We have no comment from Sarfraz or Andile to support how they both felt about the on-field shout out! But what we do have is a situation that needs to be remedied.

Sarfraz might just as well apologize for the meaning (intended or not) behind his words. The Pakistan Cricket Board also needs to groom our players in political and  social correctness. Sometimes, silence is golden, in this case however, Sarfraz needs to talk and show the world that a few words of apology can maybe fix the damage that they did in the first place.

FUCHSIA Magazine would like to thank the members of the Facebook Group The Boys In Green for some invaluable comments that helped provide insight and multiple perspectives on the issue.

 Pakistanis have a new love – and he’s Italian. Find out more about Andrea Angelucci and why we love him!



About Shazia Habib

Shazia likes to pen her thoughts when she feels passionately about a life experience, a person or an event. She is mother to 3 lively boys and along with her husband, attempts to settle in her new country by taking German lessons so she is able to soak in the culture, language and spirit of the region. "Wake up in the morning, take a deep breath and exhale! Keep on living with a passion that inspires others! "

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