Hijab Row in Iran

Hijab Row in Iran

Hijab refers to a head covering worn by a woman in Islam.  Hijab often specifically refers to a cloth wrapped around the head, neck and chest, covering the hair and neck but leaving the face visible. The purpose is to maintain modesty and privacy from unrelated males. It became as a mandate in Iran after the Islamic revolution.

Cultural revolution or Islamic revolution 1979: it changed the Authoritarian Regime to Religious Authoritarian Regime.  It was in beginning a popular democracy movement but ended with establishment of worlds first Islamic state. It led to Shia revival to uproot Sunni hegemony. It was for the removal of Monarch Mohmad Reza Shah, he was supported by the western countries. Many felt that kings’ initiative undermined the Iran’s Shia tradition. As a result, a new political set up came into existence establishing limited democracy though in reality it remained a religious authoritarian regime.

                                                             Supreme leader

 President —–Election—–1 Majlis (legislature)—–Guardian Council] —Expediency Council

                                             2 Assembly of Experts

Laws are made by the Majlis and approved by the Guardian council, in case of conflict between Majlis and Guardian Council, issue is resolved by the Expediency council. There are 290 members of majlis elected by the people for the term of 4 years. The Guardian council have 12 members 6 expert in Islamic Laws and they are selected by the Supreme leader and other 6 are judicial members elected by the Majlis among the members nominated by the Chief Justice. Guardian council also decide on the issue that who can contest an election and who cannot. The Expediency council consist of 45 members. Its members are appointed by the Supreme leader.

President is elected for the period of 4 years.  The Supreme leader outline the procedure of elections President though elected by the people is accountable to the President. He is Commander in Chief of Armed Forces, picks Judicial Heads, control state run TV, and appoint key Clerics.   Assembly of Expert was created to make the constitution. All directly elected members must first be approved by the Guardian Council. It supervises, dismiss and elect Supreme leader. When supreme leader becomes temporary uncapable it assumes the power of Supreme leader.

After the Islamic revolution Hijab became compulsory in 1983. Hijab is applicable to even non-Muslims in Iran. The dress code in Iran is less strict as compare to other Islamic countries like Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan. Women in Saudi Arabia are supposed to wear a loose-fitting dress that is worn alongside hijab while in Afghanistan women are required to wear burqa. Despite a Muslim country there is no such law in Pakistan which mandate hijab. Violation of dress code is punishable. There is provision for fine and even imprisonment. The veil has long been a proxy for politics in Iran. Several times in the past century the authorities have drastically changed the dress codes for women. First came Reza Shah, Iran’s autocratic ruler in the 1930s, who adopted the secular approach of his Turkish counterpart, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. In the name of modernisation, he banned the veil. Forty years later, in 1979, the Ayatollahs took their revenge against the secular state and sent bareheaded leftists home to put the veil back on. 

   To enforce a dress code, morality police called Gaste- Ershad has been constituted. After the election of President Ebraham Raisi in 2021 the morality police has become more active. Raisi issued a “hijab and chastity” decree. authorities are planning to use facial-recognition software to detect the underdressed on the metro. To counter such techniques, rebellious women have their own app, Gershad, to report and track the location of morality squads.

Current protests Iran are the result of arrest and custodial death of Kurdish women Masha Amini by the morality police. Unlike previous movements this movement is different. It is not purely a politico- economic movement. It is mainly a social movement, a women centric movement though politico-economic factors have also contributed in the rise of the present movement. The politico-economic factors include like large scale corruption in administration, increase in poverty, there are about 25 million people living below the poverty line, unemployment is at the rate of 10 percent, covid mismanagement and failed nuclear deal with USA which has increased the economic hardship of the people. Nevertheless, the women issue has gained the CenterStage. The protest is against patriarchal mindset. In Iran legally a woman is considered half of male counterpart there are various other forms of discriminations which a woman has to face like gender separation in public and interference in private life but the obligation of hijab is most visible discrimination, hence there is widespread protest.

Since Mahsa was a Kurdish woman therefore the Kurdish political slogan “women, life, freedom” has gained prominence. Students are raising the slogan “death for dictator”. It is different from the earlier protest in term of there is large scale participation of women, it is leaderless movement, women have shown more courage, they are publicly burning the hijab and cutting their hairs. Most important thing is that it is a peaceful protest.

The earlier movements of Iran were politico economic movements. The Green movement of 2009 raised the slogan “where is my vote”. This was against the alleged malpractice in the election and victory of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Presidential elections. In 2019 protests emerged after the sudden decision of the government to increase the fuel price.  White revolution of 1963 was against excessive modernisation.

The current uprising is social in nature and aligned towards women rights. Earlier movements were led by political groups while it is spontaneous and leaderlessIt is supported by eminent personalities from Iran as well as from all over the world like Iranian footballer Ali Karimi and Iranian actress Pantea Bahram and Elnaaz Norouzi

The American President has also supported the movement in United Nation. The American President has also asked Alon Musk to activate Starlink a satellite-based internet access for the Iranian people.

The movement has also got the Kurdish angle in it as Masha was a Kurdish woman. Kurdish are Sunni Muslims. Their population is around 30 million in Iran. They are world’s largest stateless ethnic people. They are spread over Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Armenia. However, in Iraq they have regional government called Iraqi Kurdistan. After the World War 1 they have been demanding the separate state. In 1920 the treaty of “Sevres “was signed between allied powers and representatives of Ottoman empire. The treaty abolished the ottoman Empire and obliged Turkey to dissolve Ottoman Empire and demand for Kurdistan. However, Turkey rejects the “treaty of Sevres” later on.

Iranian govt is accusing that Kurdistan worker party (1978) with the support of CIA instigating the protests. The political slogan of Kurdistan is raised in these protests. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said the protests were orchestrated by “America, the Zionist regime, and the people on their payroll.”  The response of the government is harsh. It has detained large number of journalists. Internet blackout is there. Government is also organising counter rallies to support hijab.

The role of selective western media is also under lens. It is supporting the women protest movement in Iran as a modernising force but it did not criticised abortion judgement in America and Burkini ban in France.

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