Soumya Swaminathan has pulled out of the Asian Team Chess Championship to be held in Iran, refusing to be forced to wear a headscarf. The woman Grandmaster revealed her decision to stay out of the championship in a statement released on her Facebook page.

Swaminathan isn’t the first Indian female athlete to have chosen personal integrity over ranking or a potential medal. In 2016, shooter Heena Sidhu refused to wear a hijab and backed out of the Asian Airgun Shooting Championships, which were held in Tehran that year. The cost of standing up for one’s liberty has always been high, and we are proud that our female athletes are willing to pay.

There is a difference between giving a choice and forcing diktats

The issue here is not of disrespecting Iranian or Islamic culture but refusing to be coerced into submission

Hijab, burqa or abaya is an integral part of many Asian cultures. But there is a difference between wearing them willingly and being forced into wearing one.

The opposition here isn’t against hijab or headscarf but the misogynist practice of forcing women to wear them. Most women in conservative Asian countries like Iran are not given an option. It is mandatory for them to cover up their bodies and head. Many of these women would defend these practices and argue that this cultural practice is a vital part of their identity. They are right to defend headscarves, if they are wearing them willingly. However, it doesn’t change the fact that forcing women to wear something is a way to oppress them.

Furthermore, it is wrong to expect women from other nations to cover their heads and bodies compulsorily.

Women from most liberal countries have fought for hundreds of years against sexism and cultural oppression

They have earned to the right to wear what they want the hard way. Millions of women in countries like ours are still struggling to challenge misogynist practices which oppress them in the name of traditions.

India has one foot in the modern world, where women have the right to choose their clothing. But it has one foot still rooted in a conservative bygone era where women must still cover their heads with a pallu or hide their face under ghoonghat for most of their adult life. We are struggling to uproot that foot and step forward to being a country where all women have a choice. So it isn’t just a matter of personal integrity, but endorsement of liberty of Indian women. Forcing women to cover their faces or heads against their will is not a cultural thing. It is an isolated oppression of a gender.

This is not opposition of a religion, as some people believe it to be

It’s not as if Swaminathan has refused to cover her head while entering a mosque. Which is why we all side with her. Perhaps international gaming commissions should refrain from organising championships in countries which refuse to give female athletes of foreign nationality any liberty. If they have no way of doing so, then points earned or lost from such games shouldn’t affect the overall ranking of female athletes. No woman should have to pay the price for standing up for her integrity.

While we must respect every culture, oppression or subjugation of women is unacceptable. Our fight for equality is also our fight to have the right to choose. The choice to wear a headscarf or not. If a nation wants women of foreign nationality to respect its conservative practices, then it must be willing to respect their liberty as well. Because in 2018, women will not meekly give in. They will put up a fight and willingly make professional sacrifices to endorse what they think is their right.

Picture Credit: Azwishesh

Also Read: Muslim Women’s Opinion Is Vital In Debate Over Wearing Burkha

Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are the author’s own.

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