Supporting local teams can lead to bigger things
Independence Day celebrations in Sikkim are synonymous not only with patriotism but also football fervor. Every venue hosting an I-Day event invariably includes a football tournament. The weather is perfect for the beautiful game, there are no major festivals to keep people distracted and work on the fields is relatively mild to allow for a lot of free time. Soccer has hence grown into an integral part of I-Day celebrations in Sikkim and also in the neighbouring Hills.
Over the past decade or so however, attendance had been dropping for these events. This disinterest has been especially noticeable in urban areas which offer too many other engagements to keep one busy. It is not quite the same outside the towns where I-Day football tournaments continue to be major events and draw handsome crowds. That said, there has been a slight uptick in attendance over the last couple of years. One cannot pinpoint what changed over the last two seasons – maybe people tired of satellite TV and its hundreds of channels with nothing on, or maybe the sponsors started stitching together more exciting teams, but the crowds have begun returning to the grounds and stadiums. It must have been two years ago that attendance and excitement levels hit a new high for I-Day matches, especially in Gangtok, with local teams drawing passionate support.
Football has always had passionate fans, but Sikkim had lost this, and to find it resuscitated is a heartwarming sign. A welcome sign not just because football needs more fans, but because Sikkim could use some spontaneous collaborations. The camaraderie with which the young turned up to cheer for Aakraman and USFC cannot be dismissed as inconsequential just because it was limited to a sliver of the Sikkimese society. Finding the young unanimously excited about something is always exciting, particularly when it is in a Sikkim where spontaneity is in precariously low supply and infectious bonding almost nonexistent.
But why is it good, even necessary, for the Sikkimese to get together more spontaneously for celebrations and not just unite in complaints and resentment?
Several case studies and felt experiences in diverse communities and cultures have established beyond doubt that one of the main reasons for “backwardness” is the failure of communities to work together. Writing in 1958, political scientist and influential thinker, Edward Banfield, in his seminal work, “The Moral Basis of a Backward Society”, concluded that the real reasons behind underdevelopment in a village he was studying in Italy “is to be explained largely by the inability of villagers to act together for their common good.” Another village, governed by the same laws, living on similar land, but peopled by a community with a different, more developed sense of belonging, was doing noticeably better in all indices – per capita incomes, low crime, more accountable leaders, better looked after children etc. This was credited to the civic traditions that the “better” community had nurtured. There must have been more factors also, but researchers have recorded that this community was more likely to get involved in neighbourhood activities – singing groups, football clubs, cooperatives and networks of small entrepreneurs, while in the other village, the people did not engage with any cohesion at the community level. This was an even shorter than precise-writing introduction to the concept expounded by Banfield, but will have to do for now.
Now, measure Sikkim against this theory and the worries become apparent. Accept it, the Sikkimese rarely form excited impromptu clubs or groups. There have been instances when big social groups have come together, but those have been more about following a leader into a group and were not an equal-footing coming together. There are many NGOs and clubs, but most are either family affairs or a collection of friends. Community participation has to involve a wider circle. That does not happen enough in Sikkim. That is why, when one saw youngsters come together in support for a local club without any external prodding, but because they unanimously felt like it, one gets excited about a possible new direction that community participation could take.