Indian Women's GM Objects To Hijab, Boycotts Chess Event In Iran
WGM Soumya Swaminathan declined to participate in the Asian Nations Cup.

Indian Women's GM Objects To Hijab, Boycotts Chess Event In Iran

| 212 | Chess Politics

Indian WGM Soumya Swaminathan (former World Junior Girls' Champion 2009) was selected for the Indian women's team in the upcoming Asian Nations Cup in Hamadan, Iran from July 26 to August 4.

WGM Soumya officially declined her invitation to this event, objecting to the requirement that female participants must wear a hijab/headscarf during their participation in the event.

Readers of will recall that U.S. Women's Champion IM Nazi Paikidze-Barnes boycotted the 2017 Women's World Championship held in Tehran, Iran.

Paikidze's actions were widely reported in the mainstream media. Later, IM Paikidze-Barnes created a petition on demanding the World Chess Federation (FIDE) reconsider Iran as a host of the World Championship.

GM David Smerdom also weighed in in a blog on

Swaminathan, who hails from Pune, India and has a bachelor's degree in law, felt this was a violation of her basic human rights. The decision taken by WGM Soumya is very similar to Paikidze's. She posted a message to her fans on her Facebook page.

Swaminathan cites her rights to freedom of expression, freedom of thought, conscience, and religion and objects to the lack of consideration by FIDE while allotting official Continental/World Championships. She adds that she does not object to wearing a national team dress or official sporting attire during the game but to enforcing a religious dress code.

Another perspective that may be easily missed is that of Iraninan women. The Iranian Chess Federation headed by International Arbiter (IA) and International Organizer (IO) Shohreh Bayat (a woman) has organized about six grandmaster opens a year, in addition to Women's Grand Prix events as well as the aforementioned 2017 Women's World Championships all with the same rules.

As Aussie GM David Smedron put it, "For girls, it provides a complementary source of education, along with all the associated benefits, as well as rare opportunities to interact and compete with boys on a more even footing. While, earning respect and standing among their male peers at home, and potentially even foster an independent career."

WGM and Asian Women's Champion, Mitra Hejazipour, said: "It’s not right to call for a boycott. These games are important for women in Iran; it’s an opportunity for us to show our strength.”

In an interview with The Guardian, she went on to say that such a move would "isolate Iran and ignore progress that Iranian women have made in the country."

Indian social media was quick to discuss Swaminathan's decision to boycott the tournament. Reactions were mixed. Thousands of people applauded her decision, but others objected to Swaminathan's decision to decline an official duty to represent India, and others criticized the statement as a publicity stunt.

Major Indian media coverage:

Soumya's decision was also widely discussed on national television including an interview by phone on Times Now.

The story was even trending on Indian Twitter. 

A tweet by a former sports player Mohammed Kaif garnered the most interest.

Several chess players around the globe have supported her decision. Here is ACP President GM Emil Sutovsky's statement.

IM Rakesh Kulkarni

Rakesh Kulkarni is the Director of Indian Social Media for and a correspondent on chess in India.

Rakesh has earned the International Master title and is a former Commonwealth Blitz Champion and a Commonwealth Bronze medallist in the junior category. Rakesh has a Masters of Commerce degree in Management & Business administration. He now is a professional chess player and trains young talents across the globe on

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