Women, Whiteness, and Indian Cricket

Since we’re in the midst of the Indian Premier League’s (IPL) second championship season, I thought I’d take a moment to write a little something about cricket, a remnant of British colonialism that dominates everyday conversation in India. During a televised game, large groups of men will congregate for hours outside of electronics shops, in restaurants, and in front of communal televisions set up in the middle of a footpath so they can be a part of the action. Though cricket has traditionally been the realm of men, women are also beginning to carve out a place for themselves in the sport as players and team owners. Unfortunately, they are also garnering a trophy-style presence that reflects yet another unfortunate relic of colonialism: White privilege.

The IPL is a competition between eight cricket teams that represent eight different areas of the country: Kolkata, Delhi, Bangalore, Mumbai, Chennai, Deccan Plateau, Punjab, and Rajasthan. Because this year’s IPL coincided with the country’s general elections, the Indian government refused to provide the tournament with security (instead focusing all security efforts on keeping the polls safe for voters), which forced the league to shift its games’ venue to Johannesburg South Africa. Perhaps it is the location then that makes the IPL Miss Bollywood contestants so, well, not Indian.

Scrolling though the fifty contestants, who were chosen from the crowds attending the matches by IPL ‘spotters’, I was taken aback to discover that about half* of them are White—not Anglo-Indian White, but White White. So I checked out the criteria to see what the judges were looking for, and how the contestants were chosen:

The judges are looking for someone from the thousands of fans who have attended DLF IPL matches in South Africa who has the potential to take Bollywood by storm. We are therefore looking for someone who has the star quality to stand out in a crowd, probably without even trying that hard. It’s that special, almost indefinable, quality that gives someone star quality. The heart of our idea has been to find people at IPL matches who have the attitude and appearance that catches the eye. It will be the kind of person who is not necessarily showing off for the camera, but who can mesmerise even total strangers.

Apparently that enormously ambiguous star quality is Whiteness. This hypothesis is further supported by looking at the list of 16 finalists. Guess how many of these women are White? Ten! This racial disparity hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Indian media either. When the Times of India asked IPL spokesperson Trevor Jones about the abundance of White contestants he responded, “We believe it is neither desirable nor practical to try to operate a quota system at individual matches or in terms of the overall Miss Bollywood IPL SA initiative.” For a country where a quota system is the norm, this response strikes an odd note.

The winner of Miss Bollywood IPL receives 50,000 ZAR (approx. $6,000) and an all-expense paid trip to India. Originally, the IPL gave the impression that the winner would have the opportunity to star in a film with India’s most popular Bollywood leading male, who also happens to own the Kolkata Knight Riders, Shahrukh Khan. They deny it was their intention to mislead anyone, but listening to the contestant videos tells a different story. The interviewers specifically state again and again that Miss Bollywood IPL will “spend some time with Shahrukh Khan” and “have a shot at starring in a Bollywood movie.” Neither of these statements is true.

It sounds to me like the IPL needs to get their act together in more areas than just women’s place in cricket, and this isn’t a bad place for them to start. Instead of holding duplicitous, racially-biased pageants, perhaps it should use its resources to support the talents of the country’s female players—such as Mitali Raj, India’s leading batswoman; the world’s fastest woman bowler Jhulan Goswami; and rising stars Anjum Chopra, Amita Sharma, and Reema Malhotra, who are advocating in favor of an IPL for women. They could also encourage the business savvy of female team owners like Preity Zinta, Juhi Chawla, and Shilpa Shetty.

Miss Bollywood IPL will be crowned on May 23rd. Are you riddled with anticipation?

* This number may be higher since I only counted the ones who are obviously White.

by Mandy Van Deven
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