Indian chess star says no to headscarf, pulls out of event in Iran

Pune : Woman Grandmaster and former world junior girls’ champion Soumya Swaminathan has pulled out of the Asian Team Chess Championship, to be held in Hamadan, Iran, from July 26 to August 4, calling the Islamic country’s “compulsory headscarf” rule violative of her personal rights.

“I do not wish to be forced to wear a headscarf or burqa. 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 to not go to Iran,” the 29-year-old, who is India No. 5 and world No. 97 among women, posted on her Facebook account.

Earlier, in 2016, top Indian shooter Heena Sidhu had withdrawn from the Asian Airgun meet in Iran citing the same reason.

‘No place for an enforceable religious dress code in sports’

Soumya said that when she first gave the nod to be a part of the Indian team, the host country was to be Bangladesh and the dates were different. “But once the new dates and new venue came up, I excused myself,” she added. When asked if the All India Chess Federation (AICF) should have protested against the decision to allot the tournament to Iran, Pune girl Soumya told TOI: “I can’t expect everyone to be of the same opinion as me. It’s subjective issue.”

However, in her Facebook message, Soumya blasted the officialdom. “I am very disappointed to see that player’s rights and welfare are given little importance while allotting and/or organising official championships,” she wrote.

“I understand the organi-D Harika and Padmini Rout competed in that event.

Among other chess players, Ukraine’s Muzhychuk sisters, Anna and Mariya, have been vocal about human rights and gender equality and have refused to play premier tournaments in Saudi Arabia. The champion team from the Iran event will qualify for the World Team Chess Championship. Iran is also scheduled to host the open Asian Team championship concurrently.

Bharat Singh Chauhan, All India Chess Federation honorary secretary, did not respond to requests for comment.

Soumya’s Facebook post received hundreds of comments, majority of them appreciating her brave stance.

The details of remaining members in the five-member women’s team are sketchy.

American chess player Nazi Paikidze also refused to play the knockout World Championship in Tehran, Iran, last year over the same issue.

Source : TOI

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