Iran, the Islamic Republic, is in the grip a hitherto-unseen and most widespread wave of civilian protests against the authorities’ brutal force to make wearing of headscarf or hijab mandatory for women. Analyses Prasanta Paul
Iran is burning, thanks to an unprecedented rebellion by the Zen Z. Many might term it as Iran’s maiden feminist revolution.
But with men joining them and fighting the government forces shoulder to shoulder, the current unrest may bethe most widespread in the history of the Islamic Republic.
For nearly a month, students and other Iranian citizens have been braving bullets, tear gas canisters besides water canons in several streets across the country, denouncing the draconian restrictions on what women can wear in public.
The toll has already crossed more than a hundred including four minors, if not more. Nevertheless, videos of girls in schools and colleges and the motley crowd on the streets chanting “Women, Life, Freedom!” have been proliferating in social media.
So much so that the authorities have been compelled to parrot the hackneyed alibi of `blame-gaming’ the Western powers for inciting the current fierce unrest in Iran over what they termed as `a trifling incident of natural death.’
The Spark: Mahsa Amini
The death of Mahsa Amini 22, a young woman who perished in the custody of Iran’s morality police, has sparked an astonishing youth revolt across the country.
Mahsa, while driving along with her brother, was allegedly dragged by Iran’s police out of the car for not wearing a hijab (a mandatory head scarf for women) properly and beaten mercilessly for arguing with the morality police.
Within a few days, a severely bruised Mahsa perished in the hospital. And the cops, as usual, dished out the theory of cardiac ailment of the victim that allegedly `lay dormant’ in her.
Within a week, protesters in solidarity with Mahsa, took to the streets and the numbers swelled by leaps and bounds, forcing the Islamic Republic to resort to brutal force to quell the rioting mob.
The Republic first resorted to tear gas canisters and then switched over to indiscriminate firing even though the protesters seem absolutely undaunted.
Calls for “death to the dictator” — a direct, strident denunciation of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, have been renting the air in city after city.
The Islamic regime which hardly brooks any dissent, has snapped the internet for an uncertain period as part of various instruments of coercion to stultify the voice of protest.
Authorities have blocked WhatsApp and Instagram, shut off or limited internet and cellular access, and doubled down on online surveillance censorship.
Despite the risks, Iranians still find ways to share videos, connect with foreign journalists and activists, and check in with family and friends abroad.
As a result, demand for virtual private network apps to circumnavigate the regime’s cyber controls has spiked by 3,000 percent within the country, while demonstrations against the regime and the wearing of the headscarf have continued unabated.
Men VS Hijab
In Iran, to advocate for a woman’s right to choose the clothes she wears is to stand up against the oppression that is woven into the fabric of everyone’s life.
What is even more important is the fact that it was not just women who took to the streets: unlike in India, men have stood right there beside them, chanting Jin, Jiyan, Azadi (women, life, freedom).
The fact that Mahsa Amini could have been anyone’s mother, sister, daughter, or wife tipped an already precarious balance.
“They are galvanizing the entire country, and the men are with them,”The New Arab quoted Firuzeh Mahmoudi, Executive Director of the non-profit United for Iran(an organisation dedicated to improving civil liberties in the country.) as having said.
“Rape of the Lock”
With anger roiling the streets, several videos depicting macabre means of protest have emerged on social media. One of the unique instances of solidarity protests with Iranian women that has so far gone viral across the world is cutting hair in symbolic support.
Hundreds of Iranian women have dared the authorities to initiate action against them even as they cut their locks in several public congregations on the streets of the country and burnt hijabs.
This has spread like wildfire, prompting several women across the world to imitate the action as an expression of solidarity with the agitating mob.
European parliamentarians have cut their hair in symbolic solidarity.
“More than 50 French female artists have symbolically cut their hair in a video campaign showing support for the ongoing protests in Iran calling for freedom from hijab.”
“Great. I don’t have much hair to cut. But I am with them, and I will always be with them,” wrote Taslima Nasreen in her Twitter handle.
Support has also come from no other than Bollywood actress Priyanka Chopra, the UNICEF’s goodwill ambassador.
In a long tweet, she said: “Women in Iran and around the world are standing up and raising their voices, publicly cutting their hair and many other forms of protest for Mahsa Amini, whose young life was taken away so brutally by the Iranian Morality Police for wearing her hijab ‘improperly’.”
“The voices that speak after ages of forced silence, will rightfully burst like a volcano! And they will not and MUST not be stemmed.”
“I am in awe of your courage and your purpose. It is not easy to risk your life, literally, to challenge the patriarchal establishment and fight for your rights. But you are courageous women doing this every day regardless of the cost to yourselves.”
Protest in Schools
In a daring defiance to the authorities, school girls in one of the schools in Tehran, removed their hijabs and broke into an impromptu protest in the school premises.
According to a latest report, Asra Panahi, 16, died after security officials raided the Shaheed Girls’ High School in Ardabil in northewestern Iran and ordered a group of girls to sing a song praising the ruler of the Islamic Republic.
When some students refused, they were severely beaten up. Cops began thrashing the students. Panahi who was also among them, succumbed to her injuries sustained in the school.
In India, alone protester from Noida, Dr Anupama Bhardwaj, went against the wind and cut her hair in solidarity with the agitators of Iran.
Last but not the least, Iran’s state broadcaster was hacked this month in the middle of its main news programme on a Saturday, transitioning from a clip showing the Supreme Leader to chants of “women, life and freedom.”
Hacktivist group Edalat-e Ali (Ali’s Justice) hacked the Iranian state TV’s live news broadcast, displaying a photo of Ali Khamenei with the verse “The Blood of Our Youths Is on Your Hands” along with photos of Mahsa Amini and three teenage girls killed in the current uprising across the country.
For hundreds and thousands of citizens of this Arab nation, this fight is personal for young Iranians, touted as Zen Z, who have only known life under the rule of the Islamic Republic.
“For me, it is a fight against darkness,” Ahmad, a young Computer Science student said. “In this country, we live all our lives without any type of freedom,” he explained, adding that it is even worse for women.
Reuters quoting The Washington Post said in a report that the “rawness of the rage makes it hard to predict where the protests will go (in near future).”
Analysts however, see the movement as operating without real leadership and with little coordination or influence from the vast and politicized Iranian diaspora.
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The author has served no less than Al Jazeera and German TV, and India’s Parliamentarian magazine among others! To his credit goes a deep-rooted empathy for social issues and humans. He has wide experience in covering the northeast of India. His coverage on the 2020 Amphan cyclone in eastern India has easily been the best around the world