Indian 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 26 July to 4 August, because of the compulsory-headscarf rule.
Taking to Facebook, she wrote, “I am very sorry to state that I have asked to be excused from the Indian Women’s team for the forthcoming Asian Nations Cup ( Asian Team ) Chess Championship 2018, to be held at Iran from 26 July – 4 Aug 2018, as I do not wish to be forced to wear a Headscarf or Burkha. 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.”
She went to on add that she was very disappointed to see ‘that player’s rights and welfare are given such less importance while allotting and/or organising official championships.’
Soumya wrote, “I am very disappointed to see that player’s rights and welfare are given such less importance while allotting and/or organising official championships. 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.”
She concluded her post by expressing her regrets once again that she will not be able to represent India in the championship.
She wrote, “I deeply regret that I will be unable to participate in such an important championship. 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.”
In her subsequent conversations with her fans, she said that she was ‘personally quite optimistic that things will change in the near future if players speak up.’ It is not something players desire of course, because it is ideal to put all our energy into our game and nowhere else, but it is also important not to keep suffering for no fault of yours and pretend it doesn’t affect you,” she added.
Not everyone among her fans were impressed with her decision. One Shikhar Mishra disagreed when he wrote, “While your stand is Noble and brave, your religious rights and freedom of expression are provided by state of India so they can not exactly be claimed over there. They have their own culture and definitions for freedom and rights. You might judge them on any front you want but at the end it will be only sports which is at loss.
I would say go there, win the title then take off your scarf while receiving the first prize. That would be one hell of a message. Won’t it?”
To which Soumya replied, “Anyway, you have a point, and that’s the reason I do not want to go as their legal rights do not protect my human rights. That’s my whole point.”