Delhi: B P Baloo, a Dalit cricketer, earned glory for India during the pre-independence period. But, the issue is why there are not many players from lower castes in the Indian team.
BABAJI PALWANKAR BALOO: not many cricket fans will be aware of this name. And, if I go ahead with this article without giving a brief background about him, then perhaps it will sound like talking in the national language of Timbaktoo. So, let me start with a brief introduction of Baloo.
He was a left-arm orthodox spinner, who played cricket for India from 1906 to 1920. Born in Dharwad in Karnataka, he was perhaps the first Dalit cricketer of India. With an exceptional ability to turn the ball both ways he managed to claim 179 wickets in his career. Now, for all those who are wondering what is so special about this cricketer from the Chamar caste, let me remind them that this was the time when caste discrimination was predominant in India. This was also the time when the British ruled the Indians and in many areas ‘dogs and Indians were not allowed’.
However, it was the sheer talent of Baloo that never allowed the upper castes to dominate him. Most of us are aware of the fact that Vinoo Mankad claimed 100 wickets in 1946 in England. But, we might not know that Baloo achieved the same feat in 1911 when he toured England. He ended the year with a total of 114 wickets at an average of 18.84.
Can you imagine a Dalit cricketer in the pre-independence era going to England and beating the English batsmen in their own game? Also, do not forget to take into account the limitations of training and grooming available in India compared to what the English got, who started playing the game much before us. Many believe that Baloo was an inspiration for Dr B R Ambedkar.
The name of Baloo, however, is not new to many. The author Ramchandra Guha has written a famous book A Corner of a Foreign Field: The Indian History on Baloo’s life. Another author, Boria Majumdar, has also covered the player’s life well in his writings.
Many questions came to my mind about Balo and caste in Indian cricket. In fact, I would have loved to get answers for some of my questions mentioned below from either Guha or Majumdar. But it is my bad luck that none of them were available for an interview with a citizen journalist. Hence, I pass on the entire set of unanswered questions to the intelligent web community.
Here they follow.
Question 1: Babaji Palwankar Baloo, played in 1906. He was a good player. But, amazingly, till date we can hardly count any other Dalit cricketer in the Indian cricket team. Is it because Dalits are still financially weak and cannot pay to get groomed for the competitive selection process or is there a hidden social bias against them?
Question 2 (a): Unlike old days when cricket field was a forte of the city-dwelling rich and mighty, we have seen a number of star cricketers emerging from smaller cities in recent days, namely Mahendra Singh Dhoni from Jharkhand, R P Singh from Rai Bareilly, etc. Even the ones coming from cities belong to the lower class. Does it show a shift in the Indian cricket from big cities to small towns and across classes? What effect does it have on the caste composition of the team?
(b): Is there a regional trend in caste in cricket? The cricketers from the south – Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble and V V S Laxman – and Maharashtra – Sachin Tendulkar and Ajit Agarkar – are Brahmins and urban. The cricketers from the north – Virendra Sehwag and Harbhajan Singh – and smaller towns are either lower or middle caste Hindus or non-Hinus. Is caste hierarchy more rigidly placed in the south?
Question 3: All selectors in Tamil Nadu Cricket Board are Brahmins, and the most recent player to emerge from the state is Murli Karthik, who is also a Brahmin. Does it reflect a caste bias in cricket?
Question 4: Is it a mere coincidence that Sunil Gavaskar, Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, Kumble, Tendulkar, Laxman and many other stalwarts of the Indian cricket are Brahmins?
Question 5: Everytime there is a small town guy displacing a big-city Brahmin from a position of prominence, the Brahmin lobby in cricket gets furious. Sunil Gavaskar could not digest the success of Kapil Dev. Tendulakar had problems with Sehwag taking his opener’s slot. The initial success of Harbhajan Singh displaced Kumble from the team in situations where only one spinner is required, and it created some murmers of discontent in the Karnataka cricketing lobby. Is this cold war castist in character?
Question 6: What can be the future trends in Indian cricket team with respect to caste and class of players across regions?
Question 7: Some writers have pointed out Baloo inspired Ambedkar, something that Ambedkar has acknowledged. Can there be more Ambedkars if there are more Baloos?
I will like to put a disclaimer here that my intentions are neither to engage the fanatic cricket fans in a brainless debate nor to point a finger to the worthiness of any of the big cricketers I have named. Rather, with this article, I just want to dig into the truth and find out if India is really free of caste bias. If yes, then why is it that the eleven-member team of our most popular sport is not big enough to fit in a Dalit member? Or, does the problem lie somewhere else?