Indian chess star Soumya Swaminathan has asked to be excluded from the Indian Women’s Team for the Asian Nations Cup to be held in Iran, on the grounds that she refuses to wear a headscarf, as is compulsory for all women in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is a very brave and welcome move on her part. She went on to explain the reasoning behind her decision on a detailed Facebook post.
Calling the situation disappointing, Soumya Swaminathan went on to say that the compulsory wearing of headscarf or burkha was a ‘direct violation of her Human Rights, including her right to freedom of expression, and right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.’ She differentiated the requirements by organisers to often wear formals or sports attire, but said that imposition of the Hijab was religious in nature, and that there is no scope for religion in sports.
The decision by her has been lauded on social media, and rightfully so. It takes some gusto to put one’s foot down and take a stance in a world where it is easier to be labelled as intolerant or racist than it is to point out oppression in its most blatant form.
Indian chess star, Soumya Swaminathan, withdraws from #Iran event over headscarf rule.
Glad to see a woman taking bold steps to defend her rights-
Slamming the conventions like a knight!
— Nausheen Khan (@DrNausheenKhan) June 13, 2018
— Smita Barooah (@smitabarooah) June 13, 2018
Nonetheless, unsurprisingly, influential personalities and ‘intellectuals’ took no time to take the decision and turn it in their favour. This disgusting tweet by Sagarika Ghose goes on to show that some people are willing to ignore a commendable and laudable move by a sports personality to put aside her career to take a stance on something she feels is downright oppressive. So much for ‘smashing the patriarchy’ Sagarika.
Good for chess star Soumya Swaminathan to assert her individual rights on wearing headscarf. Hope she'll similarly assert her individual rights when told what to wear, eat, read, write, post on social media, or told to prove her "nationalism" by Indian govt #soumyaswaminathan
— Sagarika Ghose (@sagarikaghose) June 13, 2018
The headscarf is a controversial topic the world over, with several nations like Denmark and Austria recently banning it in public places out of security concerns. Many self confessed feminists have surprsingly defended the Hijab, which is as patriarchal in its symbolism as something can get. These Islamic feminists have claimed that it is their ‘choice’ whether to don the Hijab or not, and that wearing the Hijab is not necessarily a sign of oppression. In this case, however, the choice never existed. Iran requires all women, including foreign visitors, sports personalities and politicians to wear the oppressive Hijab while on Iranian soil. The so called Hijabi Feminists feel it is their choice to wear the Hijab because they have been conditioned to think that way. It is an illusion of choice rather than a choice in itself.
While several nations have taken up the issue of banning Hijabs in public places, the issue won’t be resolved unless people take a leaf out of Soumya’s book and put a foot down themselves. In 2016 Indian shooter Heena Sidhu withdrew from a tournament in Iran, saying she won’t wear the Hijab. These decisions have to applauded and replicated by ordinary people in the country.
For all the feminists that claim they want to ‘smash the patriarchy’, they should perhaps start with the Hijab- arguably the most definitive symbol of patriarchy and bigotry in the world today. It must be absolutely miserable to have to cover your face, something you should be proud of, under the flawed logic that it may appeal to a man’s sexual desires. The more feminists like Sagarika Ghose continue to undermine the oppressive nature of the Hijab, and turn brave decisions like that of Soumya Swaminathan’s into self serving political rhetoric, the longer women will continue to suffer.