Former India cricket L Balaji said that all forms of discrimination must be dealt with seriously and educating the next generation over perils of social issues is important.

Balaji, responding to the debate around racism in cricket, said discrimination regarding colour is not the only problem and in all walks of social life, there is an urgent need to act.

“At all levels – be it school, college, or any industry for that matter – there is a tendency among some people to target someone’s perceived weakness,” Balaji said in a chat show Homerun with AV with sports commentator Arun Venugopal.

“A bully goes after easy targets. There are plenty of rules and regulations that seek to prevent that. However, until and unless people of different classes, races, and nationality recognise the seriousness of the problem - like they have in the case of Covid-19 pandemic - this can’t be solved. The fear for our lives has led to greater emphasis on social hygiene. However, which mask can hide the virus [of racism and discrimination] that is affecting our minds?”

Racism present in cricket has been a topic of debate recently. In a video posted on Instagram, West Indies’ two-time T20 World Cup-winning captain Darren Sammy revealed he was called a word — k***u — which he recently realised is a derogatory term to describe black people. Sammy has been calling out racism in cricket, adding his voice to the protests after the death of George Floyd in US.

Balaji said that it is not just in cricket, but every aspect of life that such issues must be dealt with. He added that calling nicknames that imply something different about a person’s physical appearance should be stopped.

“What I have seen is that the weakest are usually targeted. There is no point in merely one person speaking up; it dies down as a reaction there and then. This is not a problem that concerns only an individual or one section of the society. The malaise is deeper – people cutting across boundaries are affected by this.

“If someone says they haven’t encountered this problem, there is a good chance that they aren’t opening up. Also, traditionally we aren’t encouraged to speak up about problems like these. Now, a lot more people have begun to come forward and speak more openly about these issues. But, the spark caused by such outrage dies down soon and we move on with our lives. That is why such an issue needs to be dealt with the seriousness it deserves. A strong initiative is the need of the hour,” the Chennai Super Kings bowling coach said.

The 38-year-old, who played eight Tests, 30 One-Day Internationals and T20Is, also spoke about how children in Indian society are put under pressure based on marks and having faced difficulties when he failed in school, he said it is important to eradicate that issue.

“I was 12-13 when I was failed in class seven. If you ask me, repeating a class at a certain age can be incredibly humiliating. I felt it acutely because of social pressures and the realisation that I had let down my parents and caused embarrassment to them. That particular phase affected me a lot psychologically.

He added: “Luckily, my parents were able to accept the situation and handle it well. Otherwise, such social stigma and humiliation at such a young age could even lead to children taking extreme steps. I survived the phase thanks to my parents’ awareness, but not all parents have such awareness. So, please don’t discriminate anyone – be it children or adults – on any grounds.

“I don’t think failing someone in class seven is the right thing to do. To watch my parents suffer humiliation because I failed was truly difficult. It has been 25-26 years, but the scar hasn’t healed. Overcoming such humiliation, however, equipped me to cope with the different challenges in my career and life.”

You can the watch the interview (in Tamil) below: