The symbolism was obvious. Boys and girls, men and women, young and old, took turns to dribble past “fascist” defenders, dummies dressed in khaki shorts and white shirts. It was a celebration of the peoples’ spirit as well as a display of a solidarity; a sort of demonstration of a united citizens front against the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 and the National Register of Citizens that comes with it.
Football was the driving force at the Maharaja’s Ground on January 13, 2020. The protestors―footballers from five-years-old to octogenarians― unequivocally voiced their solidarity against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government at the centre and its divisive politics.
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Hum Khelenge: Football Protest Against Fascism ― an evening of football organised by Streets of Calicut, a cultural community based in Kozhikode, Collective Phase One, a community of filmmakers, and the Maharaja’s College Union ― brought thousands to the ground in the heart of Kochi, Kerala. The protestors, many wearing their team colours, described the evening as ‘Panthukondoru Nercha’ (an offering with the ball) to the fight against divisive forces in the country.
Many places in India have become hotspots of protests against the BJP government and the CAA, led by young people, college students, community leaders and, inevitably, backed by various political parties. As the movement gains momentum the government, for its part, has refused to engage in dialogue with civil society, choosing instead to trying to quash the voices of dissent and democracy, particularly where those voices come from the margins of society, with both force and a propaganda onslaught.
'Football Protest Against Fascism' involved a tournament between four college teams, and seven-a-side and five-a-side matches between many clubs, including women's teams, and squads made up of football fans. The protest, was inaugurated with a blindfolded penalty kick by former India footballer CV Seena, while Falhan CS and Aneesh M.K, captains of the national and Kerala state blind football teams, took turns, taking, what they called ‘shots against Fascism…’ Harder than any fired by the forces trying to quash the worth of the Indian constitution.
The whole evening, “sent powerful messages,” said writer-director Muhsin Parari, one of the organizers of the eight hour long protest, which had its fair share of goals, spills, thrills, nutmegs and the likes.
“This is the time for the fraternity to come together against fascism. And we chose football as it is loved by millions of people around the world and it also has the ability to unify people,” added Parari.
A girls team ready for action at the Football Protest Against Fascism event in Kochi on January 13 (Pic: Leo Xavier).
Football matches apart, people who gathered at the ground also participated in two special events set up at demarcated zones ― Shootout for Democracy and Dribble a Nazi. All the fans who reached the ground attempted spot kicks, and tested their dribbling skills around mannequins in khaki shorts. Slogans of ‘Azadi’ rang out each time a goal was scored. The initial target was to score 10,000 goals against fascism before the night wound up. Needless to say, many more shots were fired, and goals scored.
A symbolic shirt-swap was also conducted with the aim of demonstrating football’s ability to bring together people from various walks of life. Fans of various football teams swapped shirts forsaking the usually fierce footballing rivalries for the larger cause― what they called the fabric of the nation.
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The gathering, which continued till midnight, also featured performances by singer-composer Shahabaz Aman and the band Shanka Tribe, while chants against the CAA, Narendra Modi, and Amit Shah provided a pulsating background score.
In Kerala this event was a continuation of a proud tradition of football and politics. On December 22, in Malappuram, the hotbed for sevens football, turned into a protest venue, and spectators raised slogans in protest against the CAA during a local tournament. The packed gallery chanted “Azadi” as the players lined up for the game.
At the Maharaja’s Ground, the mood was equally inspiring. No matter the situation, the rule in football is: the game must go on. And the voice of the people is what makes the game what it is, both on the pitch and in our collective imagination.
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