Written By Darshan M (Grade 10)
We cannot mistake what is happening in Iran today as a feminist movement. No! Because if it was only for the freedom of showing their hair, the former ruler of Iran, Reza Shah Pahlavi, had already banned headscarves in his 1963 decree. But, they overthrew his son, Mohammad Reza, and his brutal secret police Savak.
In the 1979 People’s Revolution when hordes of youth from the religious right and the communist left, bandied together under the Mullahs, but cruelly only replaced an autocratic dictator with a fanatical one. This a story common across the Arab world, as countries other than Tunisia are all worse off after the Arab spring movement.
In Iran, the Ayatollahs gradually made the Hijab compulsory for all women, even showing strands of hair was considered forbidden, and have been ruling Iran with an iron hand for 40 years putting their citizenry through wars and sanctions throughout this entire period. Only 2 people have been the supreme leader, Khomeini till his death in 1989 and since then is a veritable clone, the now 83-year-old Ali Khamenei.
Relatively free democratic elections have led to a succession of presidents, but they all can only work within the framework of the law laid down by the Supreme Leader and the Guardian council whose head is the 95-year-old Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, nominated for yet another 6-year term which will end in 2028 when he will be 101 years old.
The joke in Iran is that the angel of death Azrael has been unsuccessfully trying to get Ahmad for the last several years. It is seen that the Iranians are now trying to do the job themselves by overthrowing the regime. After Tehran’s morality police picked up the 22-year-old Masha Amini, while she was walking in a park on September 13th accidentally showing strands of her hair.
Masha was taken forcibly to a women’s detention center where she died 2 days later. Words soon spread on social media that Masha was beaten by the police, leading to a brain hemorrhage from which she died. Tehran police refuted this, even going to theextent of releasing the video of her collapse. But, there are few takers for this theory in Iran, and women are fed up with constantly being mistreated and rose in anger. Unconfirmed reports show oil workers chanting “Death to the Dictator”.
The young brave girls were throwing caution to the wind, some Iranian women sent the Farsi version of Bella Chao which was the anti-Fascist anthem of Italian resistance during WWII. In solidarity with Amini, a young Iranian Donya Rad posted a photo of herself having breakfast at a restaurant without a Hijab, she was arrested and taken to Tehran’s notorious Evin prison.
Hadis Najafi, had a worse fate in store after her video went viral of tying her and boldly stepping into the middle of a protest. She was allegedly specifically shot down later. In protest, many Iranian women chopped off their hair to show solidarity.
For all their protest, will the outcome be any different from their previous protests? In December 2017, a young woman staged a silent solitary protest in the middle of the crowd on revolution street in Tehran, her video instantly went viral on Iranian social media after which an uncoordinated copycat protest took place by several young women. All of them were arrested on charges of corruption and prostitution.
There was hope once when Mohammad Khatami brought in limited social and economic reforms as president but the hope faded when he was sidelined and his access to media was restricted. Similarly, the defeated candidates in the 2009 elections Mir Hossein and Mehdi Karroubi were put under house arrest for more than a decade.
One can’t expect much sympathy from the current president Ebrahim Raisi who as a judge oversaw the execution of thousands of political prisoners in the early days of the 1979 revolution. Now, he has cut Iran off the internet grid making it more difficult for protesters to coordinate or reach out to the outside world. A shrinking economy and high record inflation on account of US sanctions are of no help.
But Iranian women will not be happy with cosmetic changes any longer. They are fighting for their own Persian spring. Will it come?
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