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Why do some Indians have such a hard time being proud of Sania Mirza?


Sania Mirza and Mahesh Bhupathi of India won the French Open mixed-doubles title in 2012 in Paris. (Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

She is India's top-ranked female tennis player. She played at the Wimbledon championship this year. She was the most Googled female tennis player in the world in 2010.

And now Sania Mirza, 27, is being called the "daughter-in-law of Pakistan."

That charge amounts to a grave insult in India, which has a love-hate relationship with nuclear-armed neighbor and foe Pakistan. But Mirza did not change her nationality after she married popular Pakistani cricketer Shoab Malik in 2010, and she continues to play for India.

That has not stopped some Indians from looking at her with suspicion.

A day after the government in India's newest state of Telengana named Mirza its brand ambassador, K. Laxman, a lawmaker from the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) questioned her credentials for the job and called her the "daughter-in-law of Pakistan."

His remark sparked outrage among Indians.

Is Mirza India's pride or Pakistan's bride?

On Twitter, the chatter was about "ugly sexism," "sexist bigot" and the status of daughters in India.

Tehseen Poonawalla, a spokesman for the Congress party, which is opposed to the BJP, tweeted his outrage.

But opinion within the BJP was divided. Senior BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi said Laxman's comment "only reflects the culture of the person."

Subramanian Swamy, another BJP leader, raised questions about Mirza's patriotism: "When people have divided loyalties, we cannot expect them to represent the country or any part of the country faithfully," he told the television news agency ANI.

Mirza weighed in. And how.

In a statement, she said: "I am Indian, I will always remain one. I strongly condemn any attempts by any person, whosoever, to brand me an outsider."

Mirza is not new to controversy. In 2005, a Muslim cleric got rattled by the "Sania-mania" and subjected her to a fatwa, or a religious decree, for wearing short skirts on the court. When she advocated safe sex, she was accused of corrupting youths and her effigies were burnt. She calmed the anger by insisting that she was against premarital sex. But the biggest controversy has been over her marriage to the Pakistani cricketer.

Laxman offered to clarify. too.

"Her contribution to the achievement of Telangana is nothing. We feel pride she has brought laurels to the nation as a good tennis player," he told ANI. "But there are many other players, many other achievers in Telangana."

Rama Lakshmi has been with The Post's India bureau since 1990. She is a staff writer and India social media editor for Post World.
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