Indian tennis star faces islamist threats

Sania Mirza, a national tennis hero after her recent success in the US Open, is now surrounded by an unprecedented security apparatus after Islamic groups threatened her over her tennis skirts, which they say "offended" the religious sentiments of Muslims.

Hundreds of uniformed security agents and plain-clothes officers including women, are being stationed at the Netaji stadium in the Indian city of Kolkata (formerly known as Calcutta) on Monday, where she will be competing Tuesday in the Sunfeast Open international tennis tournament.

As well as private security staff, the Muslim tennis star has also been assured of 24-hour police protection, according to a local police executive.

"Anywhere she goes she will also be followed by a commando," ready to shield her against any possible actions by militant organisation, Jamaat-e-Ulema-e-Hind or other Islamic groups that have threatened Mirza for her on-court apparel.

Certain Islamic leaders have said that if she shows up in her usual tennis skirts that leave her legs uncovered together with her tight-fitting t-shirts, "she will be prevented from playing."

A women should wear a veil, without showing her hands or feet, according Maulana Siddidullah Chowdhry, the secretary of the Jamaat-e-Ulema-e-Hind group, and "in Islam, there is not specific indication as to what should be worn to the market or when playing."

Police in the state say that they are not taking any chances this time after the incident some months ago in which the Bangladeshi writer, Taslima Nasreen, was stopped by such groups as she was addressing a seminar on fundamentalism.

For her part, Mirza has apologised if in any way she has offended anyone, asking forgiveness "for whatever I have to do on court as an 18-year-old." But she insists to reporters that "we speak of tennis" and does not respond to any questions on her attire, the AKI reports.

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