14/07/2015 8:19 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

Sania Mirza: From 'Pakistan Ki Bahu' To 'India Ki Beti' Again

Sania Mirza of India plays a return during the women's doubles final between Martina Hingis of Switzerland, and Mirza, against Ekaterina Makanrova of Russia and Elena Vesnina of Russia at the All England Lawn Tennis Championships in Wimbledon, London, Saturday July 11, 2015. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

Sania Mirza has created history. She is the first Indian ever to have won a Wimbledon Women's Doubles title. From the moment of the Sania Mirza-Martina Hingis victory, social media has been abuzz with congratulatory messages. Suddenly, "Pakistan ki bahu" has once again become "India ki beti". Everyone is celebrating the victory with her and no one seems to care about the nationality of her spouse or the length of her skirt.

Sania has always been targeted for her choices. In July 2014, a BJP leader went as far as to call her a daughter-in-law of Pakistan (she is married to Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik) and thus unworthy of being the brand ambassador for the newly carved out state of Telangana. Her considerable achievements in tennis even back then were dismissed.

She shouldn't have been surprised, especially considering that her skirts have garnered more attention than her game. No one bats an eyelid when Aamir Khan poses nude, with just a radio to protect his modesty, but when Sania dares to follow an internationally accepted dress code for tennis, a fatwa is passed against her for being a "corrupting influence". And that's apart from the salacious articles dissecting her body or criticising her lack of "modesty".

"No one bats an eyelid when Aamir Khan poses nude... but when Sania dares to follow an internationally accepted dress code for tennis, a fatwa is passed against her."

When Sania marries a man of her choice, she is labelled a traitor and faces the kind of censure that the is rarely reserved for the likes of Dharmendra, who changed his religion so he could wed Hema Malini despite already being married with children.

So why is Sania Mirza targeted? What could it be about her that attracts such criticism, controversy and disapproval? For the answer to that you don't need to look any further than the fact that she is a woman and one that happens to be in the public eye.

And we all know that the same rules do not apply to men and women. Men can flaunt their bodies in whatever they like - chaddis, lungis, maybe even just a strategically placed radio. Men can marry whomever they want, remarry if they like, make choices based on love or lust. It's neither seen as anti-religion nor anti-national. It clearly indicates that even the religion has different guidelines for the two sexes.

For centuries, women have been shouldering the burden of righteousness and modesty. They are the bearers of the family's respect - izzat - in society. And this izzat resides in a modestly covered head and an intact hymen. Every day, women are insulted, abused, molested, raped. Yet that doesn't create as much public outrage as a girl wearing a skirt, determined to bring laurels to the country. People can't digest the fact that women can emerge from the shadow and make a mark for themselves. A woman is more than the clothes she wears, she surname she carries, the religion she follows. But try telling our society that.

All these controversies Sania Mirza has been dragged into expose the dark underbelly of Indian "culture". Sexism is deeply rooted in our mindset. We can't think beyond the narrow bylanes of gender and social prejudice. No matter how strongly we claim to be a liberal and developing nation, let's admit we still treat our women as our property. Nothing more, nothing less. Women are meant to be owned and governed. We, as a society, might not come together for a valid cause but we show astounding unity while slamming a woman for her life choices, whether it's a career or a partner. A woman doesn't have that liberty unless it is sanctioned by a man.

Fortunately, all the attempts to drag Sania down have proved ineffective. She has risen like a phoenix every time her wings were clipped or burnt. Whether a section of this society likes it or not she is one of the most successful women players ever in the history of Indian sports. And no one can take that away from her. After threatening and attacking her for years it's time that the nation gave her the respect she is due. Let's for once thank her for taking the game to amazing heights, getting wounded and fighting back like a true warrior, being devalued and disowned by her own country and yet saying , "I am an Indian and will always be an Indian until the last day of my life".

Sania Mirza is a role model. She has inspired and shall continue to inspire generations of women who harbour a dream. She has paved the path. Now others shall follow. This country shall see many more Sanias in times to come. No one can stop that. We are proud of you Sania Mirza!

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