Everything I know about cricket, which isn't much, I learned from my Black World Literature professor in college, a tiny Indian woman and cricket fanatic who would devote the first 10 minutes of every class to updating us lame American kids on the sport that was like a religion to her. I quickly learned that cricket is steeped in the kind of tradition and mythology that makes the Boston Red Sox look like a manufactured boy band. The relationship between Indian cricket lovers and their teams is other-worldly, and this kind of devout obsession is clearly in play with the controversy surrounding the sport and the "importing" of Westernized cheerleading onto the sidelines of matches throughout India, to the great chagrin and horror of many Indians. "What the cheerleaders are doing during cricket matches is ten times more vulgar than what used to happen in dance bars of Mumbai... How can we allow such vulgar dance in a cricket field?" asks Nitin Gadkari, leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Maharashtra state.
Gadkari is referring to legislation that makes the Giuliani regime look tame: the closing of all public places where dancing takes place in Mumbai. And while many Indians like Gadkari find themselves assaulted by what they perceive to be a crass performance of sexuality which stands in affront to their own culture, the cheerleaders, flown in from everywhere from the Eastern Bloc to the Midwest, have themselves become the victims of harassment from those who see them as cheap and vulgar exploiters of their culture.
Girija Vya, chairperson of Indian's National Commission for Women says, "I find nothing wrong with the concept if it is just for adding entertainment element to the game. It has to be presented in the right manner keeping the Indian values intact. I think we should promote our culture by bringing folk dancers and musicians in these matches. We have so much variety in our culture, dresses that after some point of time foreign countries will start imitating us." And yet one Indian housewife poses the following question regarding the new addition to the country's national pastime, "What is the purpose of this display?"
Good question. What is the purpose of cheerleaders at any sport, whether it's cricket in India or football here in the U.S.? Can sports where women are still not allowed to compete alongside men exist without women cheering on the sidelines for the men at play? Maybe the outrage in India will spark some soul-searching amongst sports commissioners here in the U.S. as well.