The hijab ban is a turning point

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The Islamic Republic of Iran is in the grip of a new crisis. This time, President Ebrahim Raisi’s regime faces the wrath of the country’s women. But now protesters, regardless of gender, are fiercely fighting the hollow hegemon in the Shia country. The agitators are shouting ugly slogans such as “death to the dictator”, “have no fear, we are all together”, etc. This movement is unique. Its multifaceted nature indicates actions ranging from street protests to individual acts of defiance across Iran. The final target for everyone is none other than Iran’s supreme religious leader and head of state Sayyid Ali Hosseini Khamenei. He is the second supreme leader of the country and is also the oldest head of state in all of Western Asia as of now.

Why the new protests in Iran? How did it all start? The origin of the current rage lies in the death of a 22 year old young woman named Mahsa Amini. She died while in the custody of the country’s morality police called “Gasht-e-Ershad”, known in English as the “Guidance Patrols”. However, it is very popular as the “morality police” and is a unit of the Iranian police force. He takes responsibility for upholding the laws of the Islamic dress code in public life. According to the stated public regulations, all women who have already reached the age of puberty must wear a headscarf and loose cloth in public. It must be said here that this law makes no mention of a particular age. But when it comes to schools, all girls must wear hijab from the age of 7.

What did Amini do? She was arrested in the capital of Tehran in mid-September by the morality police. Her fault was that she did not follow the Islamic dress code for women in public. While in police custody, she suffered a stroke and later died in hospital on September 16 after being in a coma for three days. This is what the Iranian authorities broadcast in public. Since then, millions of people have been protesting on the road.

Interestingly, Amini’s family said she had no pre-existing medical complications. For them, she may have been tortured to death. However, no one knows the truth because Iranian security and administration are purely opaque.

Amini was from the city of Saqqez, in the northwest of Kurdistan province. Initially, the protests started in his hometown, but later spread to all 31 provinces of Iran.

As Amini was from Kurdistan, the protesters made it the center of the current rage against the establishment. Meanwhile, international human rights groups have expressed concern over the fate of angry mobs as authorities have launched a harsh crackdown on them in the province. Despite the use of brutal force, the Raisi government has seen no sign of the movement ending. Now, the city of Sanandaz has become the flashpoint, Amini’s home region.

It has been reported by Hengaw, a rights group based in Norway, that an Iranian warplane accompanied by special security forces has already arrived in the city. This shows that the clerical state is preparing for more action against the protesters. At the same time in the province of Sistan-Baluchistan, in the south-east, which has already seen the death of more than 90 people in the current crisis since September 30. So far no sign of negotiation or discussion with the various protest groups where it broke out. . This is after all the land of Khamenei where there is no talk, only bullets that respond to democratic forces.

Why are these hijab laws imposed on women in Iran? According to the authorities and the current code of honor, women are expected to wear and behave in public according to strict Islamic laws. In fact, all these strict laws date back to the post-Islamic revolution era of 1979. Since then, the Islamic Republic imposes a compulsory dress code for all women in the country. And the duty of the Vice Police is to ensure that women adhere to the “proper dress code” as interpreted by the authorities.

All officers belonging to this police force have the power to arrest women if they display too much hair; their pants and overcoats are too short or tight; or they wear too much makeup. As a result, the police can punish women. And once the police find a woman who breaks these dress codes, the ideal punishments come in the form of heavy fines, jail time, and public flogging.

This is not the first time that Iranian women have protested against these unjust laws. Eight years ago, on May 5, 2014, an online wave called “Stealthy Freedom” was started by Masih Alinejad. She is an Iranian-born journalist and activist based in both the UK and the US.

It started as a Facebook page, but gradually turned into a huge movement for the liberation of Iranian women. In this page, usually women from Iran share their photos without a headscarf. This is done to register their protests against the mandatory hijab laws in the country.

Additionally, the historic Stealthy Freedom led to the rise of another movement by the same activist in 2017 called “White Wednesdays”. The idea behind this movement is to protest against the compulsory hijab rule in Iran. Once again, this movement inspired a new one in 2018 called “Girls of Revolution Street” highlighting the resistance against the hijab rule.

What are the demonstrators doing and asking? The demonstrators chant slogans against the establishment. Young women brazenly burn their headscarves in public. Many of them cut their hair in city squares. They are crying out against strict policies regarding mandatory veiling requirements for women in public. Simply, all are defying the law. International observers argue that the current chaos could be a potential threat to the aging regime as it has survived for more than a long time in a country like Iran. It is also a purely multifaceted protest movement supported by many groups in the interior of the country unlike the previous upheavals.

The start of this week showed worrying signals — the movement has spread to the country’s oil refineries in the southwestern part where protesters are burning tires and blocking public roads. This could have a potentially detrimental effect on the already fragile economy, both hit by Covid-19 and hit by international sanctions, of the nation.

Meanwhile, authorities are imposing severe internet restrictions and launching counter-revolutions to paint the current movement as a conspiracy by the United States and Israel to destabilize the Islamic regime. Sick and aging, now 83, Khamenei still rules the roost. Earlier this month, Iranian rumors spread the news that he was seriously ill. He survived prostate cancer surgery in 2014.

Many Western media reported that he was on his deathbed. But in mid-September he appeared in a televised mourning ceremony for Arbaeen, the national holiday to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hussein.

Indeed, the disappearance of Hussein during the battle of Karbala in the 7th century is considered an important milestone in the history of the foundation of Shia history and theology. Thereafter, the radical came out in public on numerous occasions, most recently on October 3, when he gave a speech at a police academy in Tehran. His wish is super commandment. He knew how to maintain the stronghold unleashed by the great Khomeini since 1989. But unfortunately, Khomeini is sleepwalking Iran towards a permanent tyranny.

The embattled regime is advancing nowhere. Its firmness against the fundamental and universal rights of women recognized by all international pacts and institutions and its approach to democratic and peaceful protests have not undergone any change for decades. Khamenei’s pariah regime is once again finding fault with Americans and Israelis. Her notorious tactics to counter protesters have highlighted her continued disregard for women’s rights in the country.

The rage is against the theocratic state, especially against the legitimacy of Khamenei and the radical system he has ruled for decades now. The clerical state is threatened. But the international community must remember that Khamenei is no stranger to such challenges. And he knows how to control the crowd.

(The author is the Head of Department of Arts and Humanities at Geeta University, Panipat)

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