It is a rivalry that has lasted over half a century.
When Britain decided to leave British India, it attempted to fix a long-standing religious problem by splitting the country into two countries, India and Pakistan. Instead of making this separation carefully, Britain drew a crude line that would supposedly separate Indian Hindus and Indian Muslims. Unfortunately, the lack of planning behind where this line was drawn led to what has been one of the biggest conflicts in the history of Southern Asia.
With the violent disintegration of British India came a permanent conflict between India and Pakistan that would tear apart 1.5 billion people who otherwise shared linguistic, cultural, geographic and economic identities. The war between the two countries also brought about dangerous religious stigma, setting up India’s Hindu majority against Pakistan’s Islamic republic.
Seeds of negativity and distrust were sown between two nations that could have been a superpower coalition.
Since 1947, the two countries have fought over territory and have dealt with an overwhelming number of hate crimes and racism-based riots. In that time, there have been four official wars (1947, 1965, 1971, 1999) as well as several military standoffs and undeclared skirmishes and conflicts.
Although most of the initial arguments were regarding territorial disputes, the problem has expanded vastly. Today, many Hindu Pakistanis live in constant fear of being victims of the animosity that surrounds them; Muslim Indians face a very similar problem.
Bombings and insurgent attacks in the name of each respective nation are rampant.
Neither nation is solely to blame because both nations are responsible.
According to a 2013 BBC World Service Poll, 11 percent of Indians hold a positive attitude towards Pakistan, while 19 percent of Pakistanis view India and its global influence positively. For two countries that are otherwise peaceful on an international scale, the level of suspicion and hatred that floats between India and Pakistan is tremendous.
In fact, estimates indicate that the violence between the two countries has led to anywhere from 500,000 to 1 million casualties.
Over the years, most attempts made to heal and accept the differences between the countries have fallen short.
But there is one dramatic exception.
Although both countries have consistently avoided their blatant similarities, their shared passion for the game is one that cannot be ignored. Facing each other in over 200 different matches since 1952, Pakistan and India have managed to find temporary reconciliation through the magic of a game introduced to them by the very country that tore them apart.
Still, it can be argued that a sport that encourages rivalry and debasing the opposite team does no more than deepen the distaste that Indians and Pakistanis have for each other.
But I believe otherwise.
Fifty years may have forced the two countries into a pattern of intolerance and imbalance, but there is no requirement for this pattern to remain.
The “Golden Rule” of sportsmanship is a seven-letter word: respect. Every single sport that involves contact with an opponent requires solid respect between the two opposing team members. And, like the players, the fans must also abide by the same conduct. Decent teams do not verbally attack each other but openly acknowledge each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
Without respect, there are no teams. Without the teams, there is no game.
By forcing the players on the field (and thus the fans in the stands) to respect their opponents as much as they respect each other, cricket automatically creates a space that is anti-hatred and anti-conflict. It forces India and Pakistan to put their pasts behind them for the sake of the sport they both so dearly cherish. And it creates a temporary world in which the two countries share a friendly rivalry that lasts for the length of the game and ends with a series of handshakes.
Most importantly, by forging a form of respect between the two nations, cricket has begun to teach the two countries what they have failed to grasp for so long: what it means to fully accept and understand each other.
But perhaps there is more to learn about the world, healing, people and history from what India and Pakistan have forged through cricket.
Primarily, remedies and healing have endless outlets. Governmental attempts to bridge the conflicts between the two countries ultimately fell with the leaders who had created them. But cricket neither fell nor failed. Every match slowly glued back a piece of the broken vase that Imperial Britain left shattered for so many years. Where treaties, contracts and written agreements failed the two nations, a sport succeeded.
People always move forward with time. The years that have passed since the initial separation have allowed for the people of India and Pakistan to be more open-minded towards change. Although satisfaction rates are still low between the two countries, they are higher than they have been for decades. Time has a curative quality like no other; eventually, people of any race, religion or culture will prefer moving forward as a whole over having a stagnant stalemate.
Although the first few cricket matches between the two countries continued to worsen their relations, the more recent decades of cricket have yielded record levels of acceptance, peace and understanding. Thus, time has aided in increasing cricket’s appeal as a mechanism for restoration of confidence between India and Pakistan.
But the biggest lesson this may bring is that history does not always have to decide the future. In fact, history never fully chooses what the future bears. Fifty years may have forced the two countries into a pattern of intolerance and imbalance, but there is no requirement for this pattern to remain.
If change is desired, it will come.
And in the case of these two countries, it did in the form of cricket.
This Saturday, India and Pakistan will come together yet again to battle for the title of the Cricket World Cup.
Almost 1.5 billion people, Indians and Pakistanis alike, will unite to create one of the most watched television broadcasts of all time.
Most importantly, although fans from both countries will be cheering for different teams, they will be cheering together.
And maybe, just maybe, 1.5 billion united cheers will be enough to continue to weaken what has kept the two countries apart for so long – enough to knock down decades of cynicism, revulsion and resentment, one wicket at a time.
Sunidhi Ramesh is a College freshman from Johns Creek, Georgia.