Anti Hijab Movement In Iran May Intensify Further
It looks as if protest over tragic and premature death of 22 year old Mahsa Amini, a Kurd woman of Iran is transforming into a mass movement. It is no longer confined to Iran or former Persia , a Shia dominated country comprising 80 million people living in an area of 1,648,000 square kms. The disconnection of the internet has not been able to suppress the movement which is being supported by the loud chants of Azadi by voices cutting across generations of men and women. Apart from setting ablaze Hijab and other headgears, vehicles of security forces are also being attacked by school and college girls.
2) Amini was charged and arrested three weeks ago for wearing tight Jeans and what the moral police of Islamic Republic considered “her headscarf being improperly worn”.She was found dead in police custody but the authorities claimed that she had died of heart attack.Majority of protesters disbelieve the version. Later, 17 year old Nika Shakarami who showed her protest quotient also vehemently, was found brutally killed. Meanwhile, it is heartening to note that Iran’ Judiciary has now begun a probe into Nika’s death. Women who come out regularly to espouse their cause like in Afghanistan an year ago, are however being brutally dealt with by the Police. Over 730 have been awarded prison terms and death of over 93 persons has been reported.
3) Soon after the death of two brave women, open demonstrations by women in other provinces too became a regular feature. They began burning their head scarfs in full public view and some even would cut off their hair in front of media persons. University students have been most active in the current round of protests. Slogans like” Women, Life and Freedom” are becoming loud and prominent. Gradually, famous sportspersons and Cinema & Theatre artists have also lent their support. The demand for scrapping the Hijab law and dissolution of Morality Police is being raised in a regular way.
4) The Morality Police, in existence in Iran for over 15 years, patrols the streets regularly ,apprehends the dress code violators and lets them off after issuing a warning. But their activities have registered a rise after present President Ebrahim Raisi came to power in 2021. Hijab was made compulsory in April 1983 even for non Muslim women and foreign visitors but there was no Morality Police in the initial stages. Instead ,Committees were in existence to monitor the ban.
5) It may be significant to note that the country, richer than even Saudi Arabia became an Islamic Republic in February 1979, subsequent to the success of an Islamic revolution which overthrew the last King(Shah) Mohammed Reza Pahlavi of the Imperial state of Iran, who was in power since September 1941. Just before his reign began, erstwhile Persia was rechristened as Iran in 1935.During his regime, may be, due to his proximity to U.S. and Egypt, he began modernisation drives and gave Cultural freedom to the people which was not liked by hardcore conservatives. Impact on dressing of women was also clearly noticeable in a country which was fully Zoroastrian till 7th Century A.D. Sunni Muslims incidentally dominated the country till 16th Century like in Turkey and Egypt.
Hijab Not Mandated In Islam
6) Hijab or any headgear which has become obligatory in Iran is not mandated so for Muslim women according to Holy Quran. Insistence on wearing it by school and college girls in Karnataka became a hot issue during January to March,2022, so much so that the attention of the High Court of Karnataka and Supreme Court had to be drawn. Educational institutions were disturbed not only in Mangaluru, Udipi, Bhatkal, Chikamaglur ,Hassan etc in Karnataka but impact was also felt in some parts of northern India. It became a choice between religion and education.
The High Court of Karnataka in its 129 page order on 15th March upheld the state Government ban stating that wearing a Hijab did not qualify as an essential religious practice and the ban did not violate the freedom of speech and expression. Not satisfied with it, some protesters felt ” the High Court did not provide justice but just a verdict”.
Ironically,17 out of 26 Islamic countries ,such as Morocco,Tunisia, Taji, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Cameroon, Chad, Congo and Gaboon have already banned Hijab. Among the non Muslim dominated countries, seven in Europe and two in Asia have also gone for such a ban.
7) Protests on some issue or the other have been recorded in Iran in 2009 and 2019 also. But Hijab has grabbed the Centre stage probably for the first time. Iran’s dress code- hijab and a loose fitting dress covering the hands and legs of women in public is still not as stringent or rigorous, as in Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan.
8) History has shown that Kurdistan province of Iran has always been a happy hunting ground for anti-state protests. Kurds, after all, comprise ten percent of the country’s population. Komala, a left wing party has been generally found vociferous in such protests. The party has also been fighting for an independent Kurdish state for a long time.
9) The USA, as expected in such situations, has permitted rather provoked Elon Musk’s Starlink network in the disturbed country, so that Iranians can have unrestricted access to the net to share their feelings and plans. Such a facility in war ravaged Ukraine ,already working successfully ,also suits U.S. interests. Besides, demonstrations in support of Iranian women have also been organised outside Iranian embassies in London, Paris, Athens and Oslo. But the latest U.S. stand may not prove a favourable factor for its proposed nuclear deal with Iran. The Iranian Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has already blamed both the USA and Israel for the internal crisis in Iran.
10) President Joe Biden in his recent speech at the U.N. General Assembly has also supported brave citizens and women of Iran who are demanding to secure their basic rights. Former President Obama, however, used to take a relatively safe stand vis a vis Iran whenever she had internal disturbances of this kind.
Perhaps, policies need to change to be in tune with the changing world order.
(The author is former Chief Secretary, Sikkim)