India has a devastating image of tolerance in the West. The recent loss of cricket proves

Disagreements between Hindus in India, which make up about 80 percent of the country's 1.4 billion people, and Muslims, which make up 14 percent


When India meets its Pakistani rival in the cricket field, even those who do not follow the game sit back and watch. But in the opening match of the T20 World Cup late last month, they were in an unusual disappointment when the Pakistani team beat India for the first time in almost 30 years - and more.

After a bitter defeat, religious strife erupted in India, a predominantly Hindu Muslim-majority country — most of Pakistan. Cricket fans have thrown out online harassment of Mohammed Shami, the only Muslim player of the Indian team, falsely accusing him of losing.

In the state of Uttar Pradesh, three students from Kashmir, a predominantly Muslim region called India and Pakistan, celebrated victory on social media and were suspended from their college, arrested and charged with sedition.

More than a dozen other Kashmiri students enjoyed Pakistan on the night of the match at two universities in the Punjab province, said Nasir Khuehami, a national spokesman for the Jammu and Kashmir Student Association.

"This is not new," Khuehami told NBC News. "Every time politics is mixed with sports, these incidents happen."

Protesters in the city of Srinagar demanded that the authorities withdraw the charges against students celebrating the victory of the Pakistani cricket team at the 22nd World Cup. Tauseef Mustafa / AFP via Getty Images

Disagreements between Hindus in India, which make up about 80 percent of the country's 1.4 billion people, and Muslims, which make up 14 percent, go back centuries and worsened during British colonial rule.

But under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist who took office in 2014, experts say there has been a sharp rise in racism and violence against Muslims that divides society and undermines India's religious tolerance.

"India has had a wonderful image in the world, as the world's largest democracy and tolerant country," said Christophe Jaffrelot, author of the 2021 book "Modi's India: Hindu Nationalism and the Rise of Ethnic Democracy."

"Now this image is slowly eroding in the US and Europe."

This poses a challenge to the United States, which strengthens its relations with India as it tries to fight China. In September, President Joe Biden hosted the prime ministers of India, Australia and Japan at Quad, the first of its four strategic summits.

American lawmakers have expressed concern about the rights of Indian Muslims and other religious minorities, and legislation before Congress will require the State Department to create a special envoy to fight Islamophobia worldwide, including India. But on November 17, the State Department refused to add India to its list of the world's worst offenders of religious freedom as recommended for the second consecutive year by a U.S. commission. (India overturned the commission's report in 2020, calling it biased.)

"The US and Europe need India vis-a-vis China," Jaffrelot said. "So right now the question of human rights in India has no effect."