Indian cricket, for all its virtues, has long been the dominion of the upper-caste Hindu male, sociologists and historians argue. And we can add, the male who is always presumed to be heterosexual. While we wait for the day Indian sports will fly its queer flag high, Mumbai’s Queer Premier League (QPL) is not letting any grass grow beneath its feet. Even if its grass on the pitch. Obviously that was a terrible pun unlike the cricket, which made for a great Sunday event, ahead of Mumbai Pride March, which falls on 28th January this year.
QPL is an initiative by Umang, a support group for lesbians, bisexual women and transgenders and its third edition took place on 8th January at the Francis Norman Ground in Bandra, Mumbai. The six-hour tournament, which saw a turnout of 80 players from the LGBTQ+ community, involved sweat, dust, pride flags and peppy cheerleaders. As one cheerleader Sumit said, “It’s especially fun because for once we have women playing on the pitch and men cheerleading.”
“QPL started with a small idea of hosting cricket matches for the LBT community who loved the sport. Pride just became one platform we could employ to reach out to the entire LGBTQ population and their allies,” says Koninika Roy, advocacy manager of the Humsafar Trust (of which Umang is a part). “One of our founders, Neelam, is a huge cricket fan and used to have several of these matches all over Mumbai. Three years ago, we got the chance to include cricket as a part of Pride, and that’s how QPL was born.”
Although QPL is organised by queer people, it is open to everyone regardless of their sexual identity. “Right now, I think we have more straight people here than we’ve ever had before,” Roy says with a laugh.
Teams consisted of a diverse mix of players who enthusiastically competed on the pitch. This edition was particularly special because it was a formal tournament setting, with various trophies up for grabs for the first time.
Cheerleaders Sumit, Siddhanth and Nisar were doubly excited to show off their moves in front of a large pride flag while the teams battled it out, and not least because Siddhanth’s boyfriend also happened to be part of the playing team. The cheerleaders multi-tasked in leading cheers, interviewing the audience about their experience, the players about their messages to the LGBTQ+ community and even me about my impression of the event, while also stealing glucose powder from the players’ stash.
State-level cricketer Kankana Ghosh, or Nick, as she introduces herself, was also in attendance as the captain of one of the participating teams (Team A). “I got into cricket because of my father and grandfather, who also played cricket. Even women’s cricket wasn’t popular at that time,” she says. “We face several problems, but with patience, I was able to play at a certain standard. Sadly, many others don’t get that chance. These kinds of events are helpful: you get the chance to play cricket and meet others from the community.”
The players come from diverse backgrounds, such as mountaineers and marketing consultants, but it’s the love for cricket that united them.
Like Pearl Daruwalla, who is an active member of Umang. “I think cricket has always been a part of my life, since childhood, whether it was just playing outside the house or playing galli cricket, or for college. Although I play really badly, I still get to play cricket. It binds us together.” Daruwalla, competing as part of Team B this year, is an events and artiste manager, who also runs an event company called Define Events, which organises parties specially for LBT women. In her opinion, QPL has grown in size over the years, and also in talent and competition.
“A friend of mine invited me to QPL, and when I heard that cricket was involved, I immediately said yes,” another player from Team B says. “Now that I know the community and the people here, I’ll definitely participate in future sports events too!”
And if you thought that queer Indians too have been blinkered by their cricket love, don’t worry — Umang plans to host a monsoon football league soon.
This article first appeared in The Ladies Finger