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Why Sania Mirza and Sonia Gandhi can both be Indian without having to justify it

Sunday, 27 July 2014 - 10:33am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna webdesk

Why is it that even women like Sania Mirza have to persistently keep proving their allegiance to their country, religion and even family?

A few generations ago, the Congress' first matriarch, Indira Gandhi, showed to the world that a woman, too, could successfully yield control over an authoritarian regime, that too in a time that was otherwise overshadowed by testosterone-fuelled dictators. It made a lot of men very uncomfortable, even those from her own party. However barring some dissent, they obliged with the powers that she held.

But it wasn't long before questions were raised over Gandhi's marriage to a non-Hindu. Conspiratorial gossip filled the corridors of power, and much was discussed, and still is, about her character and ability to "rule" a nation. Flaws in her governance are often credited to her supposed failed marriage to a non-Hindu. Because, for some reason, to be a leader of 20th century India one needs to be a pure blood Hindu, and male. The last one being of utmost importance.

Fast forward to the next generation, Indira Gandhi's daughter-in-law of Italian origin, Sonia Gandhi, arrives in the Indian political scene. After the murder of her husband, she continues to remain in India and in between being a single mother and learning the language of the country she now calls home, she takes on the reins of one of India's largest and oldest parties. Very ambitious, right? But her journey has not been without constant setbacks from those insisting, over and over again that she prove her allegiance to the country she chose to stay in. A lot has been said and written about her character too, as well as the fact that she perhaps may not have even completed her education (because all the parliamentarians in our current government are so well qualified, no). Leave alone the fact that she has immersed herself in Indian culture and language, one can still not deny that she maintains an impressive stronghold over a party that held power in the Indian government for over a decade. And yet, she has been called on over and again to prove her 'Indianness', as though not being born Indian is her worst crime.

Another generation later, Sania Mirza stands at the same altar of judgement for having married a non-Indian. Her contribution to Indian sports has been reduced to the argument of how much of an Indian she is after her marriage to a Pakistani, who by the way happens to be an accomplished sports person in his country. "She didn't win us anything substantial; she isn't as worthy a sports person either," one such "nationalist" offended by Mirza being awarded the brand ambassador title, tried to explain.

It is appalling that people quantify wins in the number of trophies and titles, and refuse to see the cultural momentum these women have provided India. Mirza represents not just the many Muslim women who are breaking long existent cultural barriers, but Indian women as a whole who hope to tread uncharted territories. How many sportswomen could you name before Sania Mirza? Or how many women politicians do you know who have wielded power over a nation without even being able to speak its language very well? Or just how many women authoritarian have there been in this world?

And yet these women, who have made so much of themselves in an otherwise man's world, have to prove to the world where their loyalties lie. I wonder if Shoaib Malik is being asked in his country to prove his allegiance because he married an Indian. How is it that Mirza's marriage is a matter of great importance when deciding her eligibility to be a brand ambassador of a state, but the marriage of the prime minister of our country is not?

It's not perfect, women's development in this country or in the world for that matter. But, those like Mirza are taking strides in changing that. It has made many, very uncomfortable—be it her short sport dresses or choice to marry a Pakistani.

But the times are changing and some of you will just have to deal with it.

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