NEW DELHI - Indian tennis star Sania Mirza, a Muslim wed to a Pakistani cricketer, broke down in tears Friday after being described by a Hindu nationalist politician as "Pakistan's daughter-in-law" and unfit to be an Indian representative.
Mirza, 27, who is married to Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik, wiped away tears as she told India's NDTV network she was tired of continually being forced to defend her "Indian-ness". "I am a very patriotic person that is why I am so emotional right now," Mirza, who wed Malik in 2010, said in the interview aired on television.
In comments reported earlier this week by local media, K. Laxman, a regional legislator belonging to the national ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), questioned the credentials of Mirza to be "brand ambassador" for the country's newest state Telengana in southern India. Laxman was quoted as saying Mirza's marriage to Malik made her a "daughter-in-law" of Pakistan, India's Muslim neighbour and nuclear-armed rival with which the mainly Hindu but officially secular country has fought three wars. Telangana, carved this year out of the state of Andhra Pradesh "is proud of Sania", said in appointing her brand ambassador for the region. Mirza grew up in the city of Hyderabad in what is now Telangana. "Fans across the country don't think her Indianness has gotten mysteriously diluted," because of her wedding to Malik, the Times of India said in an opinion-page piece. Mirza, who has played for India at all major-level sporting events, has been defended by leaders across the political spectrum, including BJP members who said its party member's comment did not reflect its official stance. Mirza earlier this month achieved a career-best rank of number five in the world when the new World Tennis Association doubles chart was released.
"After winning medals for India after I got married, (I) don't know why I have to keep justifying that I am Indian," Mirza told NDTV. The latest incident is seen as potentially further fanning concern among Muslims and other religious minorities over Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist BJP government. The controversy has erupted just days after some MPs from the Hindu right-wing Shiv Sena tried to forcibly feed a chapati -- an Indian flatbread -- to a Muslim restaurant manager fasting for Ramadan because they were unhappy about food at a government canteen.
The lawmakers belonging to Shiv Sena, a BJP ally, said they had not known the canteen supervisor was Muslim and they were complaining because the bread was so hard it "didn't even break".