Hijab is not a choice: Indian women should learn from Iranian protests


The death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in Iran has left women across the world shocked by this barbaric act. This crime was perpetrated in the name of religious laws, which unfortunately to date remain skewed towards women. These atrocities are committed to setting an example for other women to not dare defy the rules.

Women, since time immemorial, have silently been conditioned to believe that they are responsible for their own safety. The measures to keep oneself safe from gender violence, according to the conservatives, is to remain unseen and viewed as a sexless being. This is to be understood and adhered to so that men are not tempted to commit crimes like rape and sodomy.

There are stories galore of honour killings in India. The major reports emerge from Punjab and Haryana. In each case the moral keepers of honour are men. They hold the women responsible. In a way alluding that the punishment they face or any crime done to them, must have been brought upon themselves. It is mostly viewed as a breach on behalf of the women, who failed to toe the line.

Mahsa Amini is another case of gender violence that has come to light in the world media. In this case, the hijab inappropriateness got her fate. This killing has outraged every thinking individual.

On closer look, unfortunately, there are many who still believe that it is important for women to remain in a hijab to protect herself from gender violence. The men in such families emphasise on these rules in the name of protection and love. The women of the older generations in the same households also continue chiming their ignorance, without understanding how this mindset is detrimental for the empowerment of women.

The Greater Tehran police commander, Hossein Rahimi, has been quoted as, “Mahsa Amini was stopped by the morality police, known as “Gasht-e Ershad”, while walking in a park because her hijab was “inappropriate”.

He goes on to say, “The police had not made mistakes as against the accusations being made against his force. There was no negligence on the part of the police, not even a small slip. All stories published in cyberspace about the cause of death are fabricated lies.”

Looking back at the history of Iran and the Islamic Revolution, it is to be noted that it was in the rousing rhetoric of leaders, in this case Ayatollah Khomeini, who during the end of the Shah monarchy asserted that ladies were instrumental in the revolution. He praised the great share of women in the Islamic movement.

He applauded the women of Iran and said that the future of the country depended on their support.

He invoked the image of the hijab as a symbol of the revolution, saying that a nation whose respected women demonstrate in modest garb to express their disgust with the Shah’s regime, such a nation will always be prosperous and victorious.

Like most rhetorical speeches, he roused the Islamic sentiment of the common women of Iran to take part in the demonstrations, which he called the ‘referendum of the streets’.

Khomeini pleaded with women to participate in anti-Shah demonstrations in various cities. Furthermore, women later responded to Khomeini’s urge to vote in favour of the Islamic Republic, without understanding what they were signing up for.


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Women were so pivotal to the revolution that in response to a suggestion from a top aide to ban women from coming to group audiences, Khomeini said, “I threw the Shah out with these women, there’s no problem in their coming.”

After the revolution, Khomeini credited much of the success of the movement to women, even commending the women for mobilising men, “You ladies have proved that you are in the vanguard of the movement, you have proved that you lead the men. They get their inspiration from you. The men of Iran have learnt lessons from the honourable ladies of Iran.”

There was severe criticism that Khomeini and his fellow leaders danced around the issue of women’s rights, fuelling their anti-Shah sentiments.

So, the death of Mahsa Amini leaves one feeling betrayed for the history of the Iranian women and their contributions to the Islamic revolution.

There are many debates where many feel that the media does portray Muslim women as oppressed and subjugated and Islam is often presented as misogynist and patriarchal.

There is a term called the ‘Islamic feminism’, that first made its appearance in the 1990s.

In 1992, Shahla Sherkat, an Iranian who took part in the revolution of 1979, published the first issue of an Islamic feminist magazine, Zanan, which was later banned.

For all these women who have played roles shoulder to shoulder across nations. This is a moment of being let down badly. There are innumerable freedom fighters and revolutionaries across the world who joined hands in support of their country or an ideology. But sadly, women still remain as the subjugated gender across the world.

One can’t deny that the hijab debate has also made its appearance across India.

Only recently in India there were young women who were seen protesting in favour of wearing the hijab. One can clearly note that these girls have been subconsciously brainwashed to accept their status as a mere sexual being. They look at themselves from the gaze of patriarchy. Thereby supporting the hijab as a way to upkeep and honour their modesty.

According to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, a total of 28 cases in 2014, 251 cases in 2015 and 77 cases in 2016 were reported with the motive as ‘Honour Killing’. But as per the ‘Crime in India’ 2020 report of NCRB, only 25 deaths were reported with ‘Motives of Murder’ as Honour Killing. Many cases of harassment or killing go unreported.

According to the fifth edition of the National Family Health Survey, the sex ratio at birth has improved from 919 per 1,000 males in 2015-16 to 929 per 1,000, but it continues to be rigged against the girl child.

Many women are viewed as a liability in many families across India. Therefore, the thought is that she must be protected till she gets married. Post which the parents of the girl have nothing to do with her safety or any issue she faces.

Mahsa Amini’s walk in the park turned out to be her last walk. Her death was allegedly due to severe head injuries and not a cardiac arrest, as said by the authorities. This Hijab controversy got many Iranian women to chop their hair and burn their Hijab as they took to the streets. There have been casualties but it could not stop the outrage.

Quoting Arif Hussain Theruvath, who is a former homoeopath, an atheist, a science enthusiast, and a humanist, “I feel pity and I despise those tears that do not fall and tongues that do not rise when religions kill people, but only fall and rise when the religions are criticised for the atrocities they commit against humanity and world peace.”

The writer is an author and a podcaster of a show called The Mohua Show.

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Hijab is not a choice: Indian women should learn from Iranian protests
Hijab is not a choice: Indian women should learn from Iranian protests
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