“You can’t back-hand compliment the only Indian gold medal winner in athletics.”
On Thursday, 18-year-old Hima Das became an Indian icon — she clocked 51.46 seconds to win India’s first-ever track gold in a global event, at the World U-20 Championships in Finland.
Das has been a champion to many, for years before her win — she participated in a campaign to close liquor shops and has worked to ensure education for girls in her village in Assam, India.
But instead of praising Das’ accomplishments, all the Athletics Federation of India focused on, was the fact that she was not fluent in English and struggled with the language in her international television interview. Indian twitter users condemned the organisation for its obnoxiousness and rallied to support their new champion.
The Athletics Federation’s official account @afiindia tweeted a video of Das, with the caption: “#HimaDas speking to media after her SF win at #iaaftampere2018. Not so fluent in English but she gave her best there too. So proud of u #HimaDas. Keep rocking & yeah, try ur best in final!”
#HimaDas speking to media after her SF win at #iaaftampere2018 @iaaforg Not so fluent in English but she gave her best there too. So proud of u #HimaDas Keep rocking & yeah,try ur best in final! @ioaindia @IndianOlympians @TejaswinShankar @PTI_News @StarSportsIndia @hotstartweets pic.twitter.com/N3PdEamJen— Athletics Federation of India (@afiindia) July 12, 2018
Tweeps pointed out the glaring error in their tweet — their ‘speking’ typo didn’t go unnoticed.
@DesiPoliticks tweeted: “Irony is when you can’t do a spell check and make a daring typo and shamelessly plug about fluent English! Shame! Take the tweet down as this is total disrepute!”
@iambhutia wrote: “#HimaDas is a phenomena. However I’d tone down on the non-English speaking rhetoric. It does nobody any good. You can’t back-hand compliment the only Indian gold medal winner in athletics.”
The Twitter conversation surrounding the controversial tweet has generated over 4,000 replies.
Some tweeps sought a change in mindset and pointed out the faux pas to Rajyavardhan Rathore, who leads India’s Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports.
Tyagi @ndtyagi1955 tweeted: “@Ra_THORe Sir, Athletics Federation needs to weed out their own colonial mindset on English. How many Russian, Chinese sportspersons speak English? This is trying to create a complex in Hima Das…”
@AnimaSonkar tweeted: “When a firang [foreigner] speaks Indian languages in an English accent, then it’s ‘Awwww, cute’. When Indians speak foreign language in an Indian accent, then it’s ‘Ewww, how distasteful…’ What’s wrong with @afiindia? Clear case of ‘colonial hangover’!”
Many asked why Das was even required to speak English?
@dushmanta_mr wrote: “Language is a medium to express, not to impress. Moreover, you should also remember that the …. are also not fluent in Assamese language. Concentrate on her talent, she is a sports personality, not a ‘to-be Sashi Tharoor’ and she doesn’t even need to be. #HimaDas”
For some tweeps, the Athletics Federation’s tweet was indicative of the struggles sportspersons have to go through, to get to the top.
Nikhil Arora @Nikhil26A tweeted: “The most distasteful, condescending way to congratulate someone who has made her country so proud! Confirms that Indian sports succeeds despite the ‘system’, not because of it.”
The most distateful, condescending way to congratulate someone who has made her country so proud! Confirms that Indian Sports succeed despite the “system”, not because of it. 🤯— Nikhil Arora (@Nikhil26A) July 14, 2018
The Athletics Federation has since apologised, posting a tweet in Hindi: “We apologise to all Indians who were offended by our tweet… She comes from a very humble background & cannot even speak Hindi fluently, we are applauding her effort to face journalists & trying her best to speak in English. And the point from our end is this that we made that statement to highlight her confidence & her positive attitude. To tell those who do not know her well that even though she is not fluent, she is not shy to express, & that is the reason in the first place to put this video.”
Das has not responded to the controversy, so far.