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No, Mr. Theologian, You Can't Play Tennis in a Burqa


The Daily Pioneer, Sep. 10, 2005

Photo: Kanchan Gupta

It's not quite right to quote from a friend's e-mail, especially if that causes more than just embarrassment to her. But it's worth the risk because it provides an interesting insight into a certain mindset that is fast emerging as a powerful threat to the free world.

The e-mail reads, 'The movie Baran is being shown on campus. Forwarding the message about the screening, the Muslim Student Association (M.S.A.) president at our school added a quote: 'The movie is absolutely clean and only on rare occasions do you see a woman, and even then she would have her head covered' . . . I just find it funny to see a young guy assuring everyone about the supposed 'clean'-ness of the movie as related to women . . .'

For the uninitiated, Baran is a touching film about Afghan refugees in Iran. It's not surprising that you rarely get to see a woman in this film. They had been bludgeoned almost into extinction, forced into oblivion, by the oh-so-godly Taliban. If you doubt that bit about Mullah Omar and his band of primitive thugs, check it out with the author of God of Small Things.

I dug out this friend's e-mail after reading another one from a chap in Mumbai who was stumped on reading in that morning's newspaper that Aslam Razvi, advisory member of Jamaat-e-Islami, had taken umbrage over the clothes Sania Mirza wears on court. 'We can't understand why she should be wearing the kind of dress she wears on court. Why can't she wear long skirts and full sleeve shirts?' Mr. Razvi could try swimming in a mullah's robe to find out why.

Friday morning there was more from Mr. Razvi's friends. 'The dress she wears on the tennis court not only doesn't cover large parts of her body but leaves nothing to the imagination of voyeurs,' a fuming Maulana Hasheeb ul-Hasan Siddiqui, who describes himself as a senior theologian, has been quoted in a New Delhi paper. Don't laugh that away.

The maulana plans to launch a coordinated effort to force Sania Mirza into a burqa. His views are seconded by Maulana Mahmood Dariabadi of Ulema Council, a body of 'scholars,' who believes Sania Mirza 'ought to cover herself and play.' On Thursday, a worthy was on the telly holding forth on how the faithful should dress according to the Shari'ah: 'The veil can be dropped on certain occasions but not the way the girl is going about and playing in all these countries.'

Who's to tell these custodians of codes that it's not for them to lay down the line? That the country is immensely proud of this young girl who has made it to the list of top 50 tennis players? That she is a role model for kids her age and younger?

You can't, because reason and rationale are not the strong points of those who refuse to acknowledge that the sands of Arabia are yet to smother free mind and spirit around the world. Why else would they instruct men to beat their wives into submissive beasts of burden? Of course, that's absurd.

But try telling it to the mullahs and they will tell you not only should women be banned from being visible, they should also be kept on a leash. If you disagree, you will fall foul of Arundhati Roy. So don't even think of it.