After six decades of cross border hostility, new fury has been ignited by the announcement that Indian tennis icon Sania Mirza and former Pakistan cricket Captain Shoaib Malik are proposing to get married in nine days time.
This week in Mumbai, Indian right-wing nationalist protesters burnt an effigy of Mirza as a protest against the news. Just 15 months earlier Only 15, a group of militants, arrived in the city from Pakistan and killed more than 160 people.
And the Pakistan High Commission has denied tennis star Mirza a visa for Malik’s home town Sialkot, where a reception following the wedding was scheduled to be staged. The wedding is due to take place in Hyderabad but she currently only has visas for Lahore and Karachi.
Media frenzy is mounting daily. Pakistan's mainstream English language newspaper, The News, has coined the name 'Shoania' for the pair on the lines of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s Brangelina.
TV channels have been airing non-stop reports, since the impending marriage was announced earlier this week.
The Shiv Sena, which opposes sporting and cultural ties with Pakistan, has expressed reservations over Mirza’s decision to play for India despite marrying a Pakistani national.
Sena leader Sanjay Raut insisted: “If Sania marries a Pakistani, she will have to adopt Pakistani nationality. In such a scenario, how can she play for India? She should go to Pakistan and live there peacefully.”
Though Mirza has said she would retain her Indian passport and play for India despite settling in Dubai after marriage, Raut is not impressed. “Is India like a tennis ball that is placed in one court one day and in another some other time?” he fumed. “She would play for India and her husband against India. We cannot tolerate this.”
Pakistan Tennis Federation (PTF) chief Dilawar Abbas went a step further. He said he expects Mirza to follow tradition and represent her husband’s country. “Asian women traditionally follow their husbands which is why I’m hopeful that someday she would be inspired by Shoaib to play for Pakistan,” he said, adding that Mirza could encourage Pakistani girls to take up tennis and inspire them to become world-class players.
It’s unlikely that Abbas’s expectations would be fulfilled. In a letter to the All India Tennis Association on Thursday, Mirza and her parents have confirmed that she will continue to play for India after marriage. She will be part of the Indian team for the Commonwealth Games in Delhi in October, XVI Asian Games in China in November, 2011 Fed Cup in February next year and the Olympics in London in July-August 2012.
Regardless of the fact Mirza, like Malik, is a Moslem, the Hindu Makkal Katchi political group are incensed by the news. There have been calls for Mirza to be immediately deported and Indian honors taken away from the 23 year-old who became the first player from her country to win a WTA Tour event in 2005 and reached her highest world ranking of 27 two years ago although she has since slipped to the 92nd spot.
"We feel that the cricket player basically belongs to a country, which aids and abets terrorism against India,” said Senthil Kumar of Makkal Katchi. “It is still to handover the Mumbai attack accused to India. Moreover, this is an insult to 100 million Indian people and Muslims living in India."
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