'I believe in all religions and follow their rules but you can't force it outside religious places'
Chess player Soumya Swaminathan has been left a bit shaken by the storm triggered by her pullout from a tournament in Iran over the issue of compulsory headscarf but remains firm in her belief that religious diktats should not extend beyond places of worship.
The 29-year-old woman grandmaster, who is also a former junior world champion, opted out of the Asian Team Chess championship after she found out about the organisers' instruction of 'compulsory headscarf'.
Her Facebook post, explaining the decision, has generated media storm and the-soft spoken law and commerce graduate is struggling to come to terms with it.
"I am feeling bad that I am not able to answer properly. I am unable to handle it," she said when contacted by PTI for a comment, surprised at the attention her decision has evoked.
"It was a personal decision and I have nothing more to add to it. I believe in all religions and follow their rules but you can't force it outside religious places," she explained.
Citing the practice of leaving footwear outside while visiting a temple, Soumya said just as the practice cannot be enforced beyond that religious zone, headscarves should not be forced on players while competing in a tournament.
"When we go to a temple we leave our footwear outside out of respect. It is part of our culture. But can you make it compulsory in entire India outside temples? How will it work?" she asked.
"Religion and sport cannot be mixed. No sporting field should have space for religious instructions," she added.
The Asian Nations Cup (Asian Team) Chess Championship is to be held in Iran from July 26 to August 4.
"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," the post read.
Under the Iranian law, women can only show their face, hands and feet in public and are supposed to wear only modest colours.
She is not the first Indian athlete to pull out from an event in Iran owing the diktat. Commonwealth Games gold medal winning shooter Heena Sidhu had also decided against competing in that country, citing the same reason.