Saturday, March 05, 2005

More than a tennis player

She may have bowed out of the Dubai Open but hey, it happens. Sania Mirza is just 18 - so time is on her side. Watching her powerful and graceful strokes you feel quite sure this girl is going to go far.

Along the way she is going to have to become immune to crazy Indian fans who will 'go wild' every time she wins a point. Many of the Indian spectators - at Dubai at least - were probably not even clued into tennis. But great - at least they know there is sporting life beyond cricket.

Sania is a powerful symbol of youth - and achievement. But simply by being who she is, Sania is also the face of the modern young Muslim woman.

Think about it:

- She is pursuing a completely unconventional career, where even conventional ones like medicine/ engineering/ MBA are rare for women in her community.

- She is on national television in tennis shorts and t shirt and no one has raised an eyebrow (at least yet)

I am not being 'communal' when I make these observations. Having studied at a college with a large number of Muslim girls I have seen first hand the kind of restrictions they face when it come to personal choices.

To begin with, they all came to Sophia because it is a girl's college. Some of the girls still wore burkhas to college (there was a stand so they could hang it up while on campus). Most got married immediately after graduating - at 20/ 21 and quickly became mothers.

I remember in particular one extremely talented girl - a gifted elocutionist and actor. She was selected as the lead actress in a play at the annual inter-class dramatics competition. The play was set in a Victorian period which meant she would have to weara costume other than salwar kameez. Her parents made a huge fuss about her arms showing - and this when the audience consisted only of women - students and professors of the college.

At IIM Ahmedabad, where I studied there wasn't a single Muslim girl among the 30 who were in my batch. And I don't think this has anything to do with 'discrimination' - it's just that they have never been given the freedom to dream big. Or the necessary parental support and encouragement. Come to think of it - I don't recall any Muslim boys in the batch either...

I don't say all Hindu women have the freedom to 'dream' either (read my earlier post: yeh ladki hai kahaan) but certainly many more of them are breaking new ground professionally.

Finally, Sania is a good reminder to the world of how India is different from fundamentalist Muslim regimes across the world. Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan - could any of them have produced a Sania???

I think not. India is at the end of the day a democratic country. A young Muslim woman - with the support of her family - can achieve almost anything. After all, even if the community were not to approve its word is not legal and binding.

Sania - you don't have to take up any 'cause'. Just concentrate on playing great tennis. Just 'being yourself' is a great inspiration for women, for Muslims and for all of India.


  1. You have a point, but heres someone who feels Sania Mania is a bit of overkill.

  2. i just find sania mirza a big hype

  3. "it's just that they have never been given the freedom to dream big."Doesn't work like that at all. It was that way 40 years ago, with me Mum. But not anymore. What you speak of, is a stereotype.

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  5. Ms. Bansal, really. This is disappointing. You, as editor of JAM, believeing in stereotypes? Today, there may be a handful who aren't allowed to dream big. But that does not imply that all of us are oppressed. I do not speak because I am Muslim, but because I've seen so many Muslim women do what they want. Everyone is dreaming, and everyone is achieving.

    Maybe you need to look at the situation with a little more scrutiny. Look at Negar Khan!

    I know alot of Muslim women. Let's just say - if you wouldn't know their names, you wouldn't think they're Muslim.

  6. well true, she *is* a symbol of all those things.. n she's definitely allowed *much* much more than what her clan girls usually are.. but she herself feels that whatever she's doing is inappropriate (AFA her attire goes) and asks for "forgiveness" everyday!!! This is according to her quotes in papers..

  7. i don't know what r u trying to prove??? all i could get was u trying to imply that sania represents the muslim women in india ???? n eventually india is great.. in ur society still caste rules; income level n education has no roles in defining one's culture ...for god's sake pls pls wake up n come n see the streets.grow up is all i want to say isn't a text book.

  8. if u want to reply ...

  9. Anonymous3:56 AM

    I strongly criticize putting Sania as a representative of Entire Muslim girls.Its as silly as putting Benzir Bhutto as the representative for all women in Pakistan.I would like to know more about her family background and the kind of "Income Group" they belonged to.

  10. Anonymous3:48 AM

    So there wasn't a Muslim boy in the whole of your IIM A batch. Wow !! What batch was this. And all Muslim girls went to Sophia. Thats another piece of news. Maybe all the Muslim girls in my college were lying. You are not a "Hindu fanatic", but your tone is very patronizing. Plenty of gross generalizations here.

  11. Anonymous9:35 PM

    "Sania is a good reminder to the world of how India is different from fundamentalist Muslim regimes across the world."

    Yes India may be rejoicing at Sania's growing image across the World, but did the Hindus' show the 2000 + Muslim women and girls of Gujarat the same respect and adulation, NO, instead they raped and burned them.

    Get over your self you hypocrite.

    If you truely believe in sexual equality then it shouldn't matter that Sania is a woman tennis player at all, as you are therefore an inverted sexist.

    Besides can the poorly fed, barely 4 foot tall Indian Hindus produce sportsmen like Muhammad Ali, Prince Naseem or Amir Khan?

    The greatest Indians in terms of physical prowess have either been Muslims, Sikhs or Christians.

  12. Anonymous10:40 PM

    Very true of the above person to say as he/she has done!!I rate you. Indians are two faced, everyone knowzit, they cant grow out of it. When it comes to fame and glamour, be it a muslim or indian they rejoice and will 'support' the individual, when it comes to political and economical matters regarding people they run away from the situation or use deviancy amplication and hope it solves automatically, their minds are mashed

  13. she may be a great tennis player, but she still is muslim and there's no reason for her to be showing all of that skin. I play tennis myself, but i dont go around walking in tight miniskirts.

  14. Sania is really good. But NOT a symbol of what Muslim woman are or a role model for "muslim" girls. She doesnt even practice Islam--so how can she be a role model. What you can say is taht she can be a role model athelte. She is not a symbol of the Modern Muslim --rather she is a symbol of what society wants her to be.

  15. i never watch tennis so i dont' how good this girl is but she definitely ain't the symbol of muslim women. shes comprimised her career over her faith - whether u think thats a good thing or a bad thing is upto u.
    But i definitely disagreed with most of the stuff that bansal said - india is NOT a great country and not all muslim girls are opressed anymore - we're in the 21st century for gods sake - things have changed - just cos all muslim girls don't don a little outfit and jump onto a tennis court don't mean they're opressed.
    i think u need to meet some modern muslim girls.

  16. Bansal, I can see the backlash from muslim women to your blog for Sania. The problem is even though Sania is muslim, muslim community will never embrace her choice and her identity...simply because she is labled as too modern, not praticing islam. What muslim women need to think is at broder prospective that unless they will not think big they cannot come out of there burkafied man dominated world. They need to accept modern muslim women so slowly the change can occur in the society. Some one said Nijar khan as the come on guys will you want to compete a pornstar with international level A grade tennis player ?

    Muslim women needs to open the eyes and accept the changes. Otherwise they will only good for producing wedlock, as it is india is in trouble with population.

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