When the Asian Team Chess Competition begins in Iran next month, Soumya Swaminathan will not be among the competitors. The 29-year-old grandmaster announced recently that she would not be participating due to the requirement that she would be required to wear a headscarf while competing.
“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,” Swaminathan wrote on her Facebook page on June 9. “It seems that under the present circumstances, the only way for me to protect my rights is not to go to Iran.”
Iran is currently one of only a few countries in which it is mandatory for women to wear a head covering. Swaminathan went on to say that her decision was not one that she made lightly, noting that it was a “huge honor” to represent India whenever she had the opportunity to do so but that her personal values made it impossible for her to travel to Iran for the tournament. “As a human being, I hope for my basic human rights to be protected everywhere I go,” Swaminathan wrote in a follow up post. “Thank you once again to everyone who understands this and supports me for the right reasons.”
The BBC notes that Swaminathan is not the first Indian athlete to skip an athletic event in Iran because they did not want to wear headscarves while competing. In 2016, shooter Heena Sidhu withdrew from the Asian Airgun Shooting Championships when they were hosted by Iran that year.
Swaminathan, a former world junior girls champion, is currently ranked the fifth best chess player in India.
Image credit: Soumya Swaminathan’s Facebook page