Amid the big story of Aizawl FC turning heads with results and performances on the pitch, there are far more concerning things happening off it that probably haven’t been covered extensively. The euphoria of Aizawl inching closer to the title has overshadowed all other things for the fans of the club, but there always remain lines that should not be crossed.
Racism has been a grey area in India, with subtle instances of the social evil being seen almost everywhere across the country. Aizawl fans, too, are no exceptions to that and have been victims of racist slights and abuses from opposition fans during their team’s matches.
Racism during travels
One Aizawl FC fan, Mavi Lalramchula, has had to endure plenty of racism directed his and his fellow fans’ way during trips to the footballing hotbeds of the country like Kolkata, where the biggest clubs — Mohun Bagan and East Bengal — have struggled to keep pace with the Reds in the title race,
Speaking specifically of the abuses, Mavi emphasises the pain he has had to endure while cheering on his beloved Aizawl: “They hurl abuses like, ‘If you want to play football, go play in China, why play in India’. That really hurts us because despite the fact that there have been so many players in the national team over the years who are from the North East and people are still not being able to accept it.
That hurts because we travel from one part of the country to another to watch our team play and at the end, we hear things like ‘go back to China’.”
Aizawl FC are just a point away from sealing what would be a famous title triumph, and Mavi believes the success of Aizawl will set a blueprint for other clubs from the North East to follow and people from mainland India will start accepting the strength of clubs like Aizawl.
‘Now that we are winning and everyone knows that a team from the North East is there and can beat everyone, things will surely change. Of late, even on social media, fans from other clubs have been far more accepting,’ he added.
That said, it is during the heat of the moment on a matchday that gets all sets of supporters excited, leading to a few of them going overboard and getting their racist selves out.
‘I think during the heat of the competition, especially during matchdays, people don’t tend to give much thought to what is right and what is wrong; they say whatever they see. So, that’s the time when they are at their most racist, and stuff like Chinese, etc. are being called.‘
Not even spared at home
It’s not only during their travels that the Aizawl faithful are subjected to racism. A home as well, there have been instances of ethnocentrism directed towards the Aizawl fans. As one Reds fan, who prefers to remain anonymous, noted, the racism is not as rampant at Aizawl’s home matches as at their away matches but is still present.
He said: ‘Lot of times travelling fans come to Aizawl, and they essentially don’t spare you with the racism. Obviously, it’s far more toned down because we are more in number at home, but we can understand them during the game, especially Bengali fans when they are talking their local dialect, we can understand what they are throwing at us, like Chinese c**** and stuff like that.‘
However, he also believes that should Aizawl go on to win this season’s I-League title, all the racism the fans have faced will amount to nothing as the scale of his club’s achievements will certainly mask such pressing social issues like racism at football grounds.
‘It is quite embarrassing that we are in the 21st century and still having to face such racist comments, but our love for our club goes above and beyond these small things, which will not really matter if Aizawl go on and win the title.
India is so diverse as a country, it’s time that we become more accepting and I really request Mohun Bagan and East Bengal fans not to go down to the level of racism because its a sport and everyone wants fair play,’ he added.
It’s been a fairytale season for Aizawl FC and their passionate group of fans, and this Sunday could see them crowned as the first Indian champions from North East India. But, behind all the glorifying headlines and famous narratives lies an evil that has been an undying malaise afflicting the beautiful game across the world and has seemed to find safe haven in India as well.