Soumya gains support for ‘no hijab’ stance

Not comfortable with the idea of wearing a hijab, Indian chess player Soumya Swaminathan pulled out of the Asian team chess championship to be held in Tehran in July.

Soumya Swaminathan said that when she played in Iran seven years ago, she had felt very uncomfortable playing with a hijab.   -  THE HINDU ARCHIVES

Soumya Swaminathan is overwhelmed by the response she has received for her decision to pull out of the Asian team chess championship to be held in Iran from July 26 because she doesn't want to wear a hijab.

“When I posted on my Facebook page that I was withdrawing from the Indian team for the Asian event because I did not wish to be forced to wear a hijab or burkha, as I see it as a violation of my human rights, I never imagined that I would be trending on Twitter. I am happy to get so much support for my decision and that people in India have become aware of the issue,” Soumya, a former World junior champion, told Sportstar over the phone from Pune on Wednesday.

She said the decision wasn't difficult at all. “I had written to the organisers in Iran asking them whether any exception could be made about wearing the hijab, but they replied in the negative, very politely. When I played in Iran seven years ago, I had felt very uncomfortable playing with a hijab. I had then decided that I would never compete in a tournament in which such dress codes were in place,” she said.

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She is not the first chess player to have taken such a stance. Some top players, including the reigning champion Mariya Muzychuk of Ukraine, had boycotted the Women's World championship held in Tehran last year. The United States champion Nazi Paikidze-Barnes had even started a petition to relocate the tournament, citing religious and sexual discrimination.

“I had signed in the petition. I believe that sports bodies should ensure that major events are held in countries where there is freedom for the participants,” said Soumya.

IANS adds

“It is her personal choice and decision. We do not have anything against it. We will find a replacement for her,” AICF Secretary Bharat Singh Chauhan said on Wednesday.

“The FIDE the world chess body’s stance is to abide by the local laws, culture and traditions. Similarly, AICF will also abide by FIDE’s stance. And players are free to take their own decision,” Chauhan added.

Reacting to the development, WGM Vijayalakshmi Subbaraman said: “It is Soumya’s personal choice. I respect that. She has not said anything against anybody or any body.” “I had played in that tournament and did not wear the headscarf there,” Subbaraman said.

Meanwhile, Swaminathan has opted out of forthcoming Asian Nations Cup, to be held in Iran from July 26 to Aug 4 as she does not want to be forced to wear the headscarf.

“I decided to value my freedom. It is a personal choice. It is not against anybody or the All India Chess Federation. The decision is not just against Iran but would be the same if any other country forces me to wear that,” Swaminathan, ranked four in India with an ELO rating of 2361, said on Wednesday.

“If is definitely unfortunate and very upsetting not to play for India. In the case of official international tournaments where players play for their nations, some exceptions could be made to the general rule. In the case of open chess tournaments, it is up to the players to decide whether to play in a country or not,” she added.

In her Facebook post Swaminathan said: “I find the Iranian law of compulsory headscarf to be in direct violation of my basic human rights including my right to freedom of expression and right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. It seems that under the present circumstances, the only way for me to protect my rights is not to go to Iran."

“I am very disappointed to see that player’s rights and welfare are given such less importance while allotting and/or organising official championships,” she remarked.

“I understand the organisers expecting us to wear our National Team Dress or Formals or Sporting attire for our games during official championships, but surely there is no place for an enforceable religious dress code in sports,” Swaminathan said.

Stressing that it was huge honour for her to represent India, she added: “While we sportspersons are willing to make several adjustments for the sake of our sport, always giving it top priority in our life, some things simply cannot be compromised.”