Former leg-spinner Danish Kaneria has accused former Pakistan cricket captain Shahid Afridi of mistreating him for being a Hindu and repeatedly forcing him to convert to Islam.
“Back in my cricketing days, he [Afridi] used to treat me badly and pressurised me to change my religion,” the former cricketer claimed during an interview with Zee News.
Kaneria also alleged that members of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), including former chairperson Mohammed Ijaz Butt, didn’t pay head to his pleas or complaints and strategised to keep the spinner out of the team.
“Afridi was the captain of my department so he would make me sit out. When I didn’t play in the department, I had to face problems in the county contract. When Younis Khan replaced Afridi as the captain, he used to include me in all matches,” he said, adding that Afridi also used to harass him during training sessions.
Talking about Christian cricketer Yousuf Youhana, who later accepted Islam and became Muhammad Yousuf, Kaneria said that no one had forced him to convert to Islam. “It was his personal decision. Other players had advised Shahid Afridi against bothering him.”
“When I was banned for spot-fixing, Afridi supported the ban while he used to support Muhammad Amir in a similar case,” he went on to say, adding that even then-president Pervez Musharraf had once asked him if anyone in the team bothered him for being a Hindu.
Reacting to Kaneria’s statements, cricketing legend Shahid Afridi denied all claims and went on to question his former Hindu teammate’s character.
Afridi said that Kaneria had defamed the country with the spot-fixing case and ended his cricketing career. “He is making these allegations for cheap fame and money.”
He further said that Kaneria was like his younger brother and the two played together for many years.
“How come Kaneria is only mentioning these things some fifteen or twenty years later and never came forward earlier?” Afridi questioned, saying that if his attitude towards Kaneria was bad then why did he not approach the PCB and was now claiming all this while in conversation with Indian media.
In the past seven decades as a test-playing nation, Pakistan has been represented in international matches by only seven non-Muslim cricketers: five Christians and two Hindus.
In 2005, cricket star Yousuf Youhana, born a Catholic, converted to Islam and adopted the name Mohammad Yousuf, depressing millions of minority Christians who used to cheer for the only Christian in the Pakistan team.
A few years later, Yousuf was dropped repeatedly from the national squad over several controversies, including his stated desire to join the Indian Cricket League.
Church leaders cite forced conversion as the biggest challenge for the vulnerable minority communities of Pakistan.
At least some 1,000 women from religious minorities, including Christians and Hindus, are forcibly converted and married annually in Pakistan, Forbes magazine reported in February 2021, quoting human rights organizations.
Although Pakistan dismissed such reports as “rubbish and baseless,” Forbes said the actual numbers could be much higher as many cases go unreported.