by Harleen Sandhu and Sandeep Pandey
After Mahsa Amini, 22 years old woman, was held by morality police in Iran for violating the Islamic Hijab code and she died within a few hours in police custody, Iran, mostly young women, has erupted in revolt. They are not afraid of giving up their lives like Sarina Esmaeilzadeh and Nika Shakarami, both 16 years old, who were struck with batons on their head and succumbed to the injuries. Iranian women know no fear now. For them, the stakes are very high. Since 1979 when the theocratic state was established through an Islamic revolution, by law, Iran does not give women the same rights as men compromising a woman’s right to freedom and choice. For example, women cannot move about in public without a male company, they need consent of husband in any matters relating to their children, they cannot sing, etc.
Among these was also the oppressive compulsory hijab regime. But now the women have decided to overthrow what is clearly a patriarchal tool for control over their bodies. In the past from time-to-time voices have been raised against hijab. Few brave women used to move about without hijab. But lately, the Islamic regime became more orthodox and that is when things took an ugly turn. Repression is bound to have a reaction and that is what we’re witnessing in Iran. The Ebrahim Raisi regime or supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei probably were not prepared for this kind of backlash. As they struggle to contain the outrage, it is unlikely that women will give up easily this time. With already close to couple of hundreds of deaths, they realize that if they do not succeed this time then they don’t know how long will they have to wait for the next time. And they are on their own. A section of men, who even if may be against the theocratic state may not necessarily be against patriarchy, of which they are effortless beneficiaries, are painting the current turmoil as a regime change movement in the guise of anti-hijab uproar.
In India, in the state of Karnataka, we’ve witnessed a movement for quite the opposite objective. The right-wing Hindutva forces, supported by the government and court, want the Muslim girls to come to educational institutions without hijab and the women are fighting for their right to choose to wear hijab. Of course, the Muslim clergy and Islamic right-wing organizations have supported the movement in this case but among the progressive section of country a debate has gone on whether hijab as an instrument of patriarchy should be supported? In any case, democratic polity requires that the right to choice of women takes precedence over everything else.
Religion holds a lot of power in our daily lives even today and is sadly seen in recent times to be used as a tool to exercise power by a few in a socially sanctioned manner using various culturally acceptable rituals, traditions, authority, and beliefs to rule over people’s lives and specify how one should live. Gender is used as a power tool by the oppressors to facilitate and establish patriarchal hegemony over women in society. The political and legal systems also seem to facilitate these cultural and religious commands to exercise control over everything but this pseudo-ownership of women’s bodies needs to stop right now. This curbing of freedom on choices on what to wear, to go to public spaces, to eat, to drink, procreate, to study, to sing, to dance, choose a life partner, choose a career, being independent and the literal devaluation of one’s life just on the basis of one being born as a woman is not only unfair but inhumane.
So, right now we’ve to support the Iranian women in rejecting hijab and the Indian Muslim women in being able to wear the hijab. In Turkey, Iran’s neighbourhood, too wearing the hijab is seen as a revolutionary act where women had given up the practice due to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s insistence on secularization. We’ll have to wait for an opportune time when Indian Muslim women understand that hijab is a patriarchal tool and has to be ultimately rejected. When men do not have any religiously prescribed dress code why should women have to follow one?
However, we must comprehend that in Iran the movement is not merely limited to hijab. Hijab is merely a symbol of oppression, of violation of human rights. The larger struggle is for democracy, gender equality, and human rights. Women have to be treated as equals, with respect, and should have equal participation in democracy. It is only democracy that will not only ensure equal status for women but also honour basic human rights for everybody. From being able to move out alone, choose a career of their choice, or to be able to contest the top executive position of the country, the socio-political system of the country needs an overhaul.
The basic point is when women in most places around the world have won freedom and gained equal status in society, with so many governments in various countries being headed by them, why should the women in Iran be relegated to an inferior status? It is high time that Iran changes. The women and young aspire for the fruits of modern democracy and they have every right to get those. Let us stand in solidarity with them.
India based Iranian scholar Ramin Jahanbegloo thinks that Indians are not doing enough to support the women in Iran in their struggle. A possible reason could be that we’re getting normalized to violence against marginalized sections of the population in this country. Just imagine the release of 11 rapists of Bilkis Bano and murderers of her 14 family members, their garlanding and offering of sweets to them did not stir the conscience of this nation. Our senses have been numbed by the state patronized violence and institutional injustice perpetrated against the innocent. The spirit of Iranian women, much similar to the spirit of Indian women fighting against Citizenship Amendment Act /National Register of Citizens or the struggle of farmers against the three draconian laws must inspire us to fight to make this world more democratic and humane.
Harleen Sandhu is a PhD scholar at Louisiana State University, USA and Sandeep Pandey is General Secretary of Socialist Party (India).
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